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California Announces Guidelines For Restaurant Dining Room Reopening

Bars must remain closed unless they serve dine-in meals

At a briefing on Tuesday, May 12, California Gov. Gavin Newsom released the rules for reopening of dine-in service for the state’s restaurant industry.

On Tuesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state’s long-awaited guidelines for the reopening of restaurants for sit-down dining, and it’s about what you’d expect: mandatory social distancing of six feet or more between workers and diners; face coverings for all workers who interact with patrons; and the decision to keep all bars, brew pubs, and wineries closed unless they serve sit-down, dine-in meals. One thing that wasn’t announced was a specific date to reopen dining rooms — Newsom says that those re-openings will be decided on a county-by-county basis as regions hit key COVID-19 milestones.

The full set of guidelines can be found in this document (it’s also embedded below), and there’s also a shorter rule list for dine-in restaurants to use, which covers the same guidelines in checklist form. Some important highlights to note:

  • Restaurants must “provide disposable menus to guests and make menus available digitally so that customers can view on a personal electronic device, if possible. If disposable menus cannot be provided, properly disinfect menus before and after customer use.”
  • Restaurants must also “discontinue pre-setting tables with napkins, cutlery, glassware, food ware, etc. These should be supplied individually to customers as needed. Do not leave card stands, flyers, napkin holders, or other items on tables.”
  • Same goes for condiments: “Suspend use of shared food items such as condiment bottles, salt and pepper shakers, etc. and provide these foods in single serve containers, if possible. Where this is not possible, shared items such as condiment bottles, shakers, etc., should be supplied as needed to customers and disinfected after each use.”
  • “Takeout containers must be filled by customers and available only upon request.”
  • And tablecloths might become a thing of the past: “Dirty linens used at dining tables such as tablecloths and napkins should be removed after each customer use and transported from dining areas in sealed bags. Employees should wear gloves when handling dirty linens.”
  • Restaurants must also “discontinue tableside food preparation and presentation such as food item selection carts and conveyor belts, guacamole preparation, etc.”
  • And forget grabbing a mint on your way out: “Do not leave out after-meal mints, candies, snacks, or toothpicks for customers. Offer them with the check or provide only on request.”
  • Brewpubs, breweries, bars, pubs, craft distilleries, and wineries must remain closed if they don’t offer sit-down dining, but they can reopen if they “contract with another vendor to...serve dine-in meals.”

Many of these recommendations echo those of the California Restaurant Association, a statewide lobbying group for the industry, which presented Newsom with its own set of recommendations for dining room reopening last Thursday. But even the rules as laid out today “are not static” Newsom said, and officials “will augment and update [them] if the changes are public health-focused first.”

Of course, “none of this matters of customers don’t feel safe,” Newsom said — and it doesn’t seem like they do, if a recent poll of California diners is correct. The East Bay Times reports that an Emerson College/Nexstar Media poll, conducted May 8-10, said that only 35 percent of respondents would feel comfortable about dining out “with some spacing precautions.”

Perhaps that number will increase by the time Bay Area counties hit the guidelines laid out by Newsom last week. To be allowed to move into the reopening stage that includes restaurant dining rooms, regions must attest to the readiness criteria laid out here, which includes no more than 1 COVID-19 case per 10,000 in the past 14 days and no deaths in the last 14 days.

In addition, state rules like the ones Newsom outlined today won’t supersede stricter local regulations, officials have said throughout the shutdown. They do, however, override decisions made at the county level that are looser than those laid out today. (In fact, areas that have reopened ahead of of the statewide schedule, like Northern California’s Sutter and Modoc counties, as well as Yuba City, might even be denied federal aid by the state, a letter sent by California’s Office of Emergency Services says, as they will not be able to demonstrate that “they were disproportionally impacted by COVID-19.”)

Now that the state guidance is available, San Francisco Department of Public Health spokesperson Jenna Lane tells Eater SF, local officials will “adapt those to local needs.” At Monday’s briefing on the city’s COVID-19 response, San Francisco’s Public Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax acknowledged the state’s guidelines for reopening, and said that the city’s hospitalization rate for coronavirus cases in the coming weeks is crucial to determine a dining room reopening date.

“An increase in hospitalization will tell us virus started gaining strength two weeks ago and will tell us more are getting sick and require hospital care,” Colfax said Monday. “Today, we have 71 hospitalized in San Francisco with COVID-19. If we can keep within the range for a week, we anticipate the next group of businesses will open.” However, as of Tuesday, the Bay Area is “nowhere near” meeting state criteria for reopening, the SF Chronicle’s data tracker reports, as infection and death rates remain too high, testing numbers are too low, and — per KPIX — no Bay Area county has a state-mandated, 30-day supply of personal protective equipment (PPE) for its healthcare workers.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed seems well aware that even with these new statewide guidelines, San Francisco might not enter the next phase of reopening as swiftly as some might hope. “I’m as anxious as anyone to see the city open,” she said Monday, but “we’re still not in a place where we see a decline,” which means that for now, dining rooms in San Francisco will likely remain dark and empty even after many other counties across the state reopen their restaurants for sit-down meals.