After three weeks in the “orange” stage of California’s color-coded reopening plan, San Francisco’s COVID-19 numbers are low enough that the county can move into the final stage of reopening (with infection risk within the city deemed “minimal”), state officials are expected to announce Tuesday. As part of that improved new stage of reopening, San Francisco restaurants will be allowed to operate indoor dining at 50 percent capacity, and bars that do not serve food — all of which have been closed since the pandemic began — will reopen for outdoor drinking.
Though San Francisco achieved “orange” status as of October 20, things must remain business as usual for bars and restaurants for now. According to San Francisco city officials, restaurants in the county must remain at 25 percent capacity until November 3, then can double the number of indoor patrons to 50 percent capacity, with a maximum of 200 people. Most of the other rules for indoor dining, including a ban on TVs and a 12:30 a.m. shutdown time, remain, but the time diners are allowed to linger at their tables will be increased to three hours, instead of the previous two-hour time limit.
Bars without food have a less hard-and-fast timeline, with a reopening for outdoor drinking planned “by mid-November,” city officials tell Eater SF. Indoor drinking at bars without food still won’t be allowed. It’s a strategy that echoes the one the county has followed for indoor dining: Every time SF has moved up a stage in the state’s reopening categories, the dining world has lagged one step behind, operating at the “red” level when the county has been designated “orange,” and so on. (The full announcement on what activities will resume is embedded below.)
Officials who spoke anonymously with Eater SF say that city agencies started getting word late last week that the city was poised to move into the yellow phase, but it remained unclear what city health official Dr. Tomás Aragón (who calls San Francisco’s shots when it comes to its COVID-19 response) would allow that to mean for the city’s drinking and dining establishments. By late Monday, Aragón had agreed to that dining room capacity expansion and bar reopening, one official tells Eater SF, “but only if our numbers stay good between now and then.” That’s the reason for the weeks-long delay on expanding capacity and reopening bars, one City Hall insider tells Eater SF, because “that way, if things go bad, we don’t have to open and then close again.”
That’s what could have happened on June 22, when the county first announced that bars would open for outdoor drinking. A few days before a planned reopening on June 29, coronavirus cases spiked across the city and state, and that plan was put on hold, where it’s remained until now.
These days, California is in a much different place. California’s COVID-19 positivity rate is at an all-time low, with a positivity rate of 2.4 percent. And San Francisco’s rates are some of the best in the region — and are definitely the best in the Bay Area, as it’s the first county to enter the yellow stage, and is “the first non-rural county in California to be assigned to the yellow tier,” Jeff Cretan, a spokesperson for Mayor London Breed’s office, tells Eater SF. It’s also worth noting that “San Francisco has the lowest per capita death rate of any large city in the country,” Cretan says.
In addition to the capacity increases and outdoor drinking reopening, there’s one other piece of the puzzle that could be good news for restaurants in the downtown and SoMa areas. According to city officials, as of Tuesday, October 27, non-essential offices will be allowed to open — for the first time ever — at up to 25 percent capacity, potentially sending diners back to restaurants reliant on office workers for most of their business.
In a statement, Laurie Thomas, the executive director of San Francisco restaurant lobby the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, says that “Although this is very good news, we want to emphasize that this movement toward further reopening can only continue if our community continues to adhere to the guidance given by the city and state to reduce transmission, including mask wearing while dining when any staff members approach, social distancing, contact tracing, and implementing increased ventilation processes.”
“We know that indoor dining is still not for everyone,” Thomas says, “be it diners or restaurants. But as we move into our winter season, this is another critical step in the reopening process that provides real hope for survival for our San Francisco restaurant community.”