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Here’s Why Bay Area Officials Won’t Let Restaurants Reopen

When you eat, you have to take off your mask

A Glovo food delivery rider wearing a protective mask on a...
Without a plan to protect workers and customers, the head of SF’s restaurant lobby says it’s a good idea to stick to takeout and delivery for now
Photo by Roberta Basile/KONTROLAB/LightRocket via Getty Images

On the news that the Bay Area’s newest shelter-in-place-order would allow “certain outdoor businesses” to remain open, some local restaurateurs with outdoor seating expressed hopes that their venues would qualify. According to San Francisco’s Department of Public Health (DPH), they don’t — and it’s a decision that the head of the city’s largest restaurant lobby agrees with.

“Certain businesses that operate primarily outdoors, such as plant nurseries, car washes, and flea markets, may reopen under San Francisco’s Order,” read a statement sent by the office of San Francisco Mayor London Breed Wednesday morning. Uncertain if this indicated that restaurants without outdoor seating might also reopen under the order, Eater SF contacted Jenna Lane, the Behavioral Health Communications Specialist for SF’s DPH. According to Lane, from May 4 to May 31, when the region’s new shelter-in-place rules kick in, restaurant dining rooms and bars must remain dark.

“Businesses like bars, nightclubs, theaters and movie theaters, and other entertainment venues must remain closed for any gatherings,” Lane said, and “restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, and other facilities that serve food — regardless of whether they have outdoor seating areas — must remain closed except solely for takeout and delivery.”

At an afternoon press conference, Dr. Susan Phillip, the director of disease prevention and control for the DPH, explained the decision in greater detail. Emphasizing that the guidelines were decided upon regionally — as during the coronavirus crisis the region’s shelter-in-place orders have been a joint decision of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara, as well as the city of Berkeley (which operates its own DPH) — she said that the group determined that transactions like those at a flea market could be conducted with far less contact than those at restaurants.

Phillip said that even if restaurants can successfully space their patrons, “it’s very difficult to maintain spacing for the server.” In addition, Phillip says, to sit down and eat or drink, people must remove their masks. The combination of spacing, contact time, and mask removal factors is why the decision was ultimately made to keep restaurants takeout and delivery only. (You can see her full explanation below.)

It’s a decision that has the backing of Laurie Thomas, the Executive Director of Bay Area restaurant lobby the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA). She tells Eater SF that neither she nor her group were consulted regarding the order, but that given the current lack of specific regulations for how things will work in restaurants — stuff like social distancing protocols, or even rules around what kind of dishes or cutlery might be used, it’s a “good abundance of caution” to keep restaurant seating areas, even those outside, closed.

“We’re all still working out what rules will keep customers and essential workers safe.” Thomas says, “and keeping this order as-is will give us time to determine the safest way to reopen, when we can.” But for now, she says, restricting restaurants in the area to takeout and delivery business only is “the right thing to do.”