San francisco restaurants

San Francisco restaurants are experiencing a slowdown in business due to coronavirus and trip cancellations

Reservation cancellations began Feb. 25 for Nightbird restaurant in Hayes Valley, first with a party of eight. Then a group of two. And then a group of three.

It’s an unusual thing for chef Kim Alter, whose restaurant may charge high cancellation fees due to the restaurant’s small size. So when the leader of the Party of Eight cited the coronavirus and the city’s declaration of emergency as reasons for not wanting to pay the full price of its cancellation, it certainly caught Alter’s attention.

“It was five o’clock when [the reservation] starts to be a full load if he doesn’t come because it’s a third of my dining room,” Alter told SFGATE.[The diner] just said, “It was for a company that was bringing in a special guest, and the special guests felt uncomfortable coming to San Francisco,” and referred to the city’s declaration of a state of emergency .

Alter said at the time that she was busy in the kitchen and didn’t realize the announcement was from out of town. Caught off guard, Alter quickly began to investigate the situation, but that didn’t stop the other parties from canceling.

So Alter decided to post their amazement on Twitter, asking others, “So we’ve had ⅓ of our @sfnightbird reservations canceled due to ‘coronavirus alert’. They said they were afraid to come to SF Has this happened to anyone else?

Others had noticed the same thing. At the time of the emergency declaration, there were no cases of coronavirus in the city – that figure has since risen to two confirmed cases in San Francisco on Friday – and it appeared that alongside conferences canceling their plans to take place in San Francisco, others were canceling travel plans to the city, including restaurant reservations. Now the city has issued new “aggressive recommendations” asking vulnerable populations such as the elderly and those with weakened immune systems to limit outings and avoid gatherings of 50 or more unless essential. .

So in the week after the emergency was declared, chefs such as Telmo Faria with Uma Casa noted that his restaurant was having a slower-than-usual week, with fewer weekend reservations.

“What we’ve really noticed is how many bookings we normally would have, and that’s even more telling over the weekend,” Faria told SFGATE last week. “Fridays are the lowest bookings we’ve ever had on a Friday and, being just local, having been in business for over three years, and the telltale sign is that we have as many cancellations as bookings.” (Faria confirmed on Thursday that business continues to be down around 20%).

In fact, many other restaurateurs and chefs were talking about the sudden downturn in business for the Golden Gate Restaurant Association. Laurie Thomas is the owner of Rose’s Cafe and Terzo in San Francisco and a board member of the GGRA. Not only has she seen traffic at her restaurant drop — she said Thursday night last week was down 40% from normal — she’s been in contact with other members, all of whom say they’ve taken a hit last week and continue to see even more cancellations of major parties and events this week.

“A large restaurant group in town has canceled seven groups, specifically citing the coronavirus; another guy is rapidly losing events in [downtown San Francisco]”, Thomas told SFGATE. “Another board member organized another event [and] another member of our Board of Directors in the Embarcadero area lost three big events totaling $25,000 in the past two days.”

While most can cite a few specific instances where coronavirus was named as the reason for cancellation, the general feeling is that diners are hesitant to be in the midst of COVID-19 news. While the restaurateurs we spoke with couldn’t say with certainty that all of their cancellations were due to caution – cancellations made online, for example, don’t often require a reason – the falling numbers are still frightening for anyone. the world.

For Stacy Jed, owner of the Bluestem Brasserie in downtown San Francisco, her restaurant depends not only on locals for business, but also on tourists and conferences that come to town. With the city’s announcement last week, that activity has since slowed.

“Coming from the Financial District, the[traffic] still looks relatively the same, but what we’re experiencing is that several groups that were booking conference related events have canceled due to travel concerns, and the news they read and see what’s going on with the coronavirus,” Jed said. “Tourist [traffic] would be in our market primarily on weekends – come Thursday, Friday, stay all weekend and leave Sunday night – so traffic was definitely directly affected. We’re going into our weekend with probably 50% of what we normally see on the books, so that’s certainly concerning.”

The result goes beyond the financial results of the restaurant; employees are also affected as servers and hosts are asked to stay home due to lack of customers and reservations, Jed and Thomas said. If the downturn continues, the question remains as to how this will spread to other businesses.

“If this [downturn in business] manages to continue with that… and this reaction to the misunderstanding about [San Francisco’s] emergency announcement, we will start to have to reduce; it will affect other suppliers,” Thomas said. “We will have to reduce our food orders, we will reduce our wine orders, we will reduce our linen orders – and so that will ripple through the rest of the economy. It’s not just isolated from restaurants and bars.”

San Francisco’s Chinatown has been much harder hit, as acknowledged by many restaurateurs SFGATE spoke to, with some businesses in this area estimating a drop in foot traffic of up to 80%, the Guardian reported. . Chinatown has done all it can to encourage business, including a high-profile visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to rallies meant to boost business in the hard-hit region.

“I said this to the mayor’s chief of staff, I understand that the restaurants in Chinatown have been affected a lot more than us. So what I was trying to get across to him is that now that the city has [declared an emergency declaration that] I know they have to – I understand why they did – but now it’s completely spread to the rest of the restaurants, bars and event providers in town,” Thomas said.

“It doesn’t affect Chinatown anymore because people had misconceptions or were biased or whatever Stacy said. [Jed]says: people think, “We’re just not going to travel. Maybe we shouldn’t go [out]. Maybe we shouldn’t be so far from home. And if something happened in [my home] and where do I live? What if the children don’t go to school? So I think there’s a lot going on and the easiest thing to do is not go out to dinner.”

While the restaurateurs SFGATE spoke to understood the reasoning behind San Francisco Mayor London Breed’s declaration of emergency, Thomas expressed some frustration that the city is not informing small businesses.

“I wish I had a head held high about it,” Thomas said. “Maybe there were organizations that had been warned before this happened [and] I don’t know if it would have changed anything, but I would have felt a little more included.”

Thomas made it a point to contact and speak to the city’s emergency management department, and said she felt much better now that the GGRA was “in the know” with the DEM and, she said that she finally supported the decision of the mayor. . Faria, meanwhile, said while he understands the city’s actions, he doesn’t feel supported by the city as a small business owner.

“You have the mayor of a major city and a tourist hub in the United States declaring a state of emergency, it instantly became a headline and every ticker on every news channel and every outlet you just saw, ‘coronavirus, San Francisco state of emergency,’ This really makes it sound like there’s a widespread coronavirus pandemic that actually happened in San Francisco – and at the time, no confirmed cases have been reported,” Faria said.

“For me, it was just frustrating, because I felt like small businesses had already faced so many hurdles and hurdles, and our concerns weren’t being listened to – and the city ​​really wasn’t going to fight for us and do things to make it easier and now it’s just one more thing,” he added.

What all the restaurateurs said is that they want to show that they are open for business and that they are there for those in town who want to dine out.

“I think it’s important for people to realize that restaurants play a very active role in keeping the environment healthy and clean and that, you know, we’ve all talked about that a lot and our staff are worried,” Jed said. “Maybe people think of things as institutions and don’t think of them as human interaction. [but] my bartender is just as concerned about getting a virus from arriving guests as much as the guest is concerned about it. Everyone is on high alert and everyone is washing their hands way more than I’ve ever seen.

“Our team asks us for precautions [such as hand sanitizers and wipes] as much as the community asks,” added Jed. “So it’s important to recognize that we’re all here as people, all affected by the same thing, one person on one side of the bar and there’s someone on the other.”


Dianne de Guzman is a digital editor at SFGATE. Email: