The restaurants inside reopened on March 3, so it’s been a while since eaters have seen the inside of some of these restaurants. SF restaurants received a little more attention this round, but not much, with a tentative announcement a week in advance and an official confirmation two days in advance. Still, this isn’t their first rodeo — restaurants already revamped their dining rooms in the fall, for that brief window when indoor dining was permitted. And now, after a long winter of hibernation, they are cleaning, decorating and welcoming guests.
As of this writing, San Francisco is in the red tier and restaurants are only allowed to accommodate 25% capacity, which presents design challenges. Some restaurants remove tables, leaving generous space between seats. Others, worried about an empty room, leave the tables where they are and add decorations instead, piling up fresh flowers and teddy bears. And a few go above and beyond, adding curtains and room dividers, so diners can breathe a little easier.
Whatever the creative solution, for diners who feel comfortable eating indoors, the next time they make a reservation at a favorite restaurant, it’s sure to be slightly different. Here’s how five San Francisco restaurants successfully reinvented and revamped the dining room.
At House of Prime Rib at the top of the Van Ness, the red leather booths, which are permanently installed in the steakhouse institution, cannot be moved. Instead, owner Joe Betz cordoned off all the other tables and redecorated with magnums of wine and pillar candles. “We’re going to pick up where we left off,” says Mr. Betz, still with a bit of sparkle. “I don’t like the idea of empty space, so that’s the reason. Instead of people, we have decorations, and it looks full, even though it’s not. Long-time fans, rest assured: he received both doses of the vaccine and the restaurant has already been full for months.
At China Live in Chinatown, the multi-level department store mixes things up. On the ground floor, instead of the retail store on one side and the dining room on the other, everything is mixed together now, with retail stalls interspersed with restaurant seating.
“It keeps the tables over six feet apart, so you feel like you’re in your own cocoon,” says owner George Chen. Diners can be seated next to a display of crispy chili, topped with an adorable panda teddy bear. The Cold Drinks Bar is also open upstairs, with some spaced out seating at the bar. And Eight Tables by George reopened for fine dining, no movers needed – those tables were still luxuriously spaced.
At Matterhorn, that over-the-top fondue restaurant, most of the tables are built-in knotty pine, so they weren’t going anywhere. But from the gondola to the cuckoo clocks, decor was always part of the appeal, and likewise the team took care of decorating all the other tables, with extra fondue pots and stands, fresh cut flowers and plush Bernese Mountain Dogs. “Like last time, we plan to decorate the tables that are not in use, so that they are always comfortable and welcoming to our guests,” co-owner Natalie Horwath said via email.
Orphan Andy’s in the Castro drew attention at the start of the pandemic for redecorating the restaurant with clear plastic shower curtains, a true design innovation. As in the fall, they alternate the kiosks, slightly adjust the acrylic panels and the plastic curtains and, of course, refresh the seasonal decorations. Co-owner Bill Pung installed the Easter bunnies last week.
“My partner thinks I’m crazy,” he says. “He always says, it’s not retail. But that’s my thing. For the first time in 45 years, the restaurant is not open 24 hours at the moment, currently putting the fryer to bed at 6 p.m. But Pung hopes the children will soon start going out and staying up late.
Gozu, the spectacular wagyu steak experience in SoMa, had to figure out how to reinvent the counter and, indeed, its entire style of service. Much like an omakase restaurant, Gozu typically places diners around a large horseshoe, with the grill lit in the center and the chef setting small plates directly in front of the guests. Now they exclusively have one party per side, so no one crowds the counter, and they actually had to set up a pass, so the food flows slightly differently. There is also a new table up front in what used to be the living room. And the private dining room can accommodate a large party, which these days really only means six people.