San francisco restaurants

OpenTable data shows San Francisco restaurants beginning omicron comeback

After a slowdown due to the omicron coronavirus outbreak, restaurant reservations in San Francisco are starting to rebound despite still-high case rates. Reservations are still down 63% on average from pre-pandemic levels in 2019, but OpenTable data shows an 8 percentage point increase in reservations from January 12, 2021 to January 20. Additionally, the percentage of San Francisco restaurants taking reservations on OpenTable increased by 15 percentage points between the week of January 5 and the week of January 19.

Data from the California Department of Health shows that omicron cases likely peaked in the Bay Area around January 18. With fewer cases, restaurants anticipate continued growth in customer numbers, according to Laurie Thomas, owner of San Francisco-based restaurant Terzo and executive director. of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

Thomas says the ability to quickly switch to outdoor dining was key to the initial return. While in previous waves many restaurants were learning to serve outdoors on the fly, this time they were ready.

At Fiorella, a neighborhood Italian restaurant with three locations across the city, co-founder Brandon Gillis says he really struggled in December. Beyond omicron, a rainy month made things even slower, as there was no way to comfortably seat diners outdoors. In January, the weather improved and so did business. Still, he says sales at Fiorella restaurants are down about 20% from their usual January level.

Outdoor dining has also been key to Terzo’s rebound, enabled by the Thomas parklet built at the start of the pandemic. With the lack of rain, Thomas says she is able to turn her outside tables at least twice.

Thomas’ parklets were legal due to the Shared Spaces program created by the San Francisco city government. The Shared Spaces program is part of the San Francisco Economic Recovery Task Force. At the start of the pandemic, this program was put in place to allow businesses to move outdoors for approved purposes like retail and restaurant spaces. Although parklets existed before the pandemic, the Shared Spaces program made it easier for businesses to build them because they didn’t have to follow the city’s previous code requirements.

In December, the Mayor of London Breed proposed legislation to extend the deadline for businesses to bring their outdoor seating fleets up to code. Without the extension, Thomas would have to spend money redeveloping his small park and would not have access to the space while it is being rebuilt.

“We really want to be able to continue using our shared spaces,” Thomas said. “The last thing we want is for us all to have to tear up our parklets and redo them or make any significant changes to them by March, so hopefully an extension will be introduced so we can all try to recover. “

Even with the recent rebound, San Francisco’s restaurant market recovery is among the weakest in the country. OpenTable collects data from 45 US cities, and San Francisco has the second-lowest rate of seated diners compared to 2019, just behind Philadelphia.

The number of open restaurants is also down. In San Francisco, about 75% of restaurants on OpenTable take reservations, while New York has more than 80% of restaurants, and Miami has nearly 100% of restaurants on OpenTable taking reservations. The national average is just over 90%. Thomas thinks it’s because San Francisco is simply a safe, educated city, and that characteristic is contributing to a slow rebound.

OpenTable’s data comes from a sample of 20,000 restaurants that share their inventory in states and cities with 50 or more restaurants on the OpenTable network. Because some restaurants aren’t using OpenTable or simply not taking reservations, their numbers may overstate or understate the COVID downturn for restaurants. Still, it’s a good indicator of the state of the industry.

Gillis believes that with updated guidelines on quarantine lengths and clear testing requirements for its staff, restaurants in San Francisco will emerge from omicron into a period of stability. He believes that many small businesses have found themselves in this wave, with few resources from the city. Gillis longs for this to be the last major wave of coronavirus, but he won’t plan for it.

“I just hope everyone comes out of the omicron surge safely and that all small businesses have the opportunity for a stable operating environment for an extended period of time,” Gillis said.

Amy Coval is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: amy.coval@sfchronicle.comTwitter: @amy_coval