Ever since the initial March 16 shelter-in-place order turned San Francisco’s dining scene upside down, local restaurants have scrambled to adjust to the new reality of a city where dining in is no longer an option. For some places, that’s meant shutting down for the time being — a fact of life communicated by the boarded-up windows in many of the city’s hottest dining districts.
Still, many restaurants have remained open for takeout and delivery, and in doing so, have had to adjust their business models and physical storefronts — some now operate as takeout windows; others have shifted their focus so they resemble a makeshift general store more than anything. With the region-wide shelter in place now extended at least until the end of May — with no timeline for when restaurant dining rooms will be able to open — the city’s restaurant storefronts will continue to look very different for quite some time to come.
With its papered-over windows, the Neapolitan pizza hot spot Doppio Zero might be mistaken for a restaurant that’s entirely shut down — except for the colorful, handwritten “OPEN FOR TAKEOUT” sign and the little Italian market display set up in one corner. Like many restaurants around the city, the entrance is entirely blocked, so customers can only pick up their orders outside.
In order to survive, many spots around the city have pivoted to selling groceries and pantry supplies, so that they function as general stores and specialty food shops as much as they do traditional restaurants. At Troya, the Turkish-Mediterranean restaurant in Pac Heights, the impromptu Turkish market the owner has set up is now the most prominent part of the storefront.
“Yes, we have margs,” reads the handwritten sign at the pickup area at Flores, the Cow Hollow Mexican spot. Like many SF restaurants, it also has a hand sanitizer dispenser set up for customers to use.
Even three-Michelin-starred palaces of fine dining like Atelier Crenn are simply handing bags of food to customers through a window. The restaurant’s only food offering at the moment is a $38–$55 a person “Crenn Kit” that customers heat up at home.
One of the most advanced takeout windows might be the one at Creator, the tech-forward robot burger restaurant in SoMa. They’ve devised and installed a self-sanitizing “transfer chamber portal,” complete with a hand-cranked conveyor belt, in an effort to seal off any potential for contact between their workers and customers.
Meanwhile, Wrecking Ball Coffee, in Cow Hollow, was one of the first spots to set up a plexiglass screen to create an added level of protection for both their staff and their customers.
Other coffee shops, like Ritual’s Hayes Valley spot, are limiting the number of customers allowed in the store — only one at a time, in Ritual’s case — and setting up cones to make sure people waiting in line maintain the required six feet of social distance.
Of course, restaurants and cafes aren’t the only spots installing plexiglass sneeze guards to help keep their workers safe. Over the first couple of weeks of the shelter in place, many grocery stores also made that shift — and not just the big chains like Safeway, but also local favorites like the Bi-Rite Market in NoPa.
When the first shelter-in-place extension came down at the end of March, pushing the end of the region-wide shutdown until at least May 3 (an end date that’s now been pushed back until at least the end of May), it added stricter guidelines around the social distancing protocols and signage that businesses like restaurants were required to have in place. Later, San Francisco also implemented a policy requiring people to wear masks when doing tasks like picking up takeout at restaurants.
The exact implementation of these policies have, of course, varied from place to place, from the multiple handmade “No Mask, No Entry” signs at La Mediterranee on Fillmore...
...to the cluster of signs at the front counter at Namu Stonepot in NoPa.
To avoid customers having to handle a menu, restaurants like Nopa, the California cuisine institution, have posted hand-written menus on butcher paper in their windows...
...while others, like Delarosa, Adriano Paganini’s thin-crust pizza spot in the Marina, rely on big signboards that are visible from the street. Like many other restaurants, it has basically converted its storefront into a takeout window.