San francisco restaurants

Indoor dining brings hope to San Francisco restaurants for the first time in months

In a Bay Area dining world still adjusting to the coronavirus pandemic, restaurants in San Francisco resumed indoor service on Wednesday with temperature checks, strict food enforcement policies masks and multi-question health surveys.

The moment is a small step towards normality for restaurants in the city, where thousands of food businesses have struggled to survive during the pandemic without their dining rooms. Now that it’s back as an option after the city reached tier orange in the state’s COVID-19 response plan, local restaurateurs are feeling cautiously optimistic about the industry’s future for the first times for months. They also know that for indoor dining to last, customers need to follow, not fight against, new safety guidelines.

“It’s a bit like sitting in the exit row of an airplane. You’re going to have to agree to some things when it comes to everyone’s safety,” said Laurie Thomas, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

Among the key takeaways from the San Francisco Department of Public Health’s newly expanded orders are restaurant capacity restrictions of 25% or 100 people, whichever is less, and two-hour time limits for diners. indoor dining. Additionally, upon entry, diners should be verbally screened with questions about possible exposure to the coronavirus and symptoms of COVID-19.

Face masks must be worn by diners at all times when not eating or drinking. This has been a problem for some restaurants in town that have been doing outdoor service, leading to a few chefs and owners reluctantly describing themselves as “masked police.” During this time, waiters, busses and other restaurant workers are advised not to approach a table until everyone seated is using their masks properly.

Hand sanitizer sits at the bar at John’s Grill in San Francisco, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020. San Francisco has decided to allow restaurants to once again offer indoor dining for customers within a limit twenty-five percent capacity.Michael Short / Special for The Chronicle

“For restaurateurs, this is a chance to show customers how much we’re going to put people’s safety first,” said John Konstin, owner of century-old downtown restaurant John’s Grill, which has taken over service. inside on Wednesday. “More importantly, it’s a chance to show the city that we can do it. But we all have to work on it together.

The reason indoor dining is back in the city is because San Francisco moved to Tier Orange on Tuesday, which is the state’s second least restrictive tier in its four-tier health rating system. colors. While San Francisco was previously allowed to offer indoor dining in the more restrictive red tier, city officials have taken a slower approach to reopening by tracking local health indicators instead of those in the State. Counties can choose to be more restrictive than state guidelines. Indoor dining is now available in most Bay Areas. Alameda and Santa Clara in the red tier have not sanctioned it locally, while Sonoma in the more restrictive purple tier cannot allow it.

Samir Mogannam, owner of Beit Rima, the famous Arabic comfort food establishment in San Francisco, offered indoor dining at his two restaurants in the city on Wednesday. Before the pandemic, Beit Rima’s dining halls were often packed with people packed shoulder to shoulder. Mogannam said even the 25% allowed will be more than his restaurant uses, just so locations can ease the process of serving inside.

At Beit Rima’s Church Street, this means around five to 10 diners will be allowed inside at any one time.

“We know everyone has different comfort levels and sensitivities,” he said. “We just want to give this opportunity to feel normal for people again, to dine in and start moving in the right direction where we’re doing better as a city.”

As much as San Francisco restaurants have been able to capitalize on outdoor dining, the customer experience has never mirrored what was available before the pandemic, Konstin said. John’s Grill, for example, is a place known for its history of famous patrons, and many of their photos hang on the dining room walls.

The space is filled with wood and leather surfaces, white tablecloths, and old-fashioned vibes. When it turned to an outdoor adventure during the summer, John’s Grill became more casual, with a more compact menu and decorative palm trees.

Konstin said restaurants like his in San Francisco would benefit from being able to remind diners of what aesthetically makes their address special.

“When people came in with their masks on after dining out so they could use the bathroom, we had to make sure they didn’t stop to look around,” he said. “It lets me know that people are just ready for this chance at normality. I think there will be many people who will come to live this experience.

Not all restaurants in San Francisco are rushing to welcome people inside. Some take a slower approach. Pete Sittnick, managing partner of the Waterbar restaurant, said he had enjoyed a host of lively outdoor lunches during the pandemic and that it would take about an extra day before allowing the interior department to work out how to comply. to city regulations.

“We will probably open with 20% capacity indoors to see what the demand is and see how we manage it internally,” he said. “I will also be interested to see how the public reacts to the (indoor dining).”

The public’s role in San Francisco’s pandemic restaurant landscape is more important than ever, especially when the new indoor dining option gives businesses some hope when they need it most, said Thomas.

“If these rules disrupt the way a person dines too much, they should order takeout and eat at home,” Thomas said. “It’s an additional but important chance (for restaurants) to survive until they get federal funding.”

Justin Phillips is a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: jphillips@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @JustMrPhillips