In a move that surprised the city’s restaurant industry, San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced Tuesday that the city’s restaurants will be allowed to open for outdoor dining on Friday, June 12, not Monday, June 15, as previously announced.
According to a written statement from Breed, “Opening our restaurants is a great step that will help our small businesses that are struggling, our workers who need paychecks, and our residents who are ready to safely sit outside and enjoy a meal.” While quotes from press releases are often worth less than the paper they’re printed on, there’s likely a grain of sincerity in this one — anytime restaurants have been mentioned in her regular addresses to the media during the pandemic, she’s made a great point of noting how much she misses sitting down for a meal. “Believe me,” she said during a press conference last month, “as soon as I can safely sit down at a restaurant to have a meal, I will. I miss it more than anything.”
San Francisco’s Department of Public Health is expected to release specific health and safety guidelines for outdoor dining later this week, part of a revised stay-at-home order that will go out on Friday. (Those rules would be in addition to the state-level guidelines for restaurants as laid out by Governor Gavin Newsom nearly a month ago.)
What we do know now is that restaurants that want to open for outdoor dining must comply with several new requirements, as well as those already on the books. Those include maintaining a social distancing protocol, as outlined in the city’s most recent shelter-in-place order issued on June 1, following these rules for takeout and delivery service that were issued in May, and requiring diners to remain outdoors except “for limited purposes such as to access a restroom, to access an outdoor space that is only accessible by traveling through the restaurant, or to order at an indoor counter.”
As with most other Bay Area counties that have reopened for outdoor dining, restaurants in San Francisco must limit tables to six patrons, but there are rules that deviate from other regions: Parties can be larger than six people if all are members of the same household, and at least as outlined today, there’s no requirement that those sharing tables live together.
There’s also specific guidance around masks: Diners must remain masked until they are seated, the Mayor’s office says, and they must re-cover their faces “any time they leave the table, such as to use a restroom.”
Restaurants that already have permits to place tables on the city’s sidewalks won’t have much left to do to prepare, but restaurants that haven’t previously offered outdoor dining — and want to start it in time for Friday’s opening — must fill out an application to participate in the city’s Shared Spaces program.
Shared Spaces is an expedited, free permitting program that was announced in late May, an effort to allow restaurants and retail businesses to reopen outdoors. Experts that study the new coronavirus (COVID-19) believe that transmission of the virus is less likely outdoors than inside, hence the push to bring tables, meals, and merchandise onto the city’s sidewalks and streets.
Laurie Thomas, the executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, a lobbying group that represents San Francisco’s restaurant industry, tells Eater SF that she’s “very excited” about how “easy” the Shared Spaces permitting program appears to be. The link can be found here, and it only takes “about 15 minutes” to apply, as spokesperson for San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) tells Eater SF.
Applying for sidewalk use is pretty straightforward, Thomas says. Applicants have to ensure that there will still be six feet of walking space for pedestrians, keep curb ramps clear, and provide proof of liability insurance. There’s no waiting period to hear if an application has been accepted, as according to the OEWD, “if you applied to use sidewalk space, you may start using this space in 2 business days or when outdoor retail or dining is allowed by public health officials, whichever comes first.” They’ll only contact an applicant if “we find issues with your application or insurance documents.”
“Things get a little trickier,” Thomas says, if a restaurant wants to take over the parking spaces in front of its facade. In that case, a spot will apply, and the city will “email you with next steps.” According to Thomas, those steps might include things like instructions on temporary barriers to protect diners from traffic.
There’s more information on parking lane use here, but a key thing to understand — and something that Thomas admits might be a point of friction — is that this is a 24/7 removal of a parking place. In a city like San Francisco, where parking can be more highly prized than gold, it seems like that could become a contentious issue, but Thomas doesn’t have a lot of patience for that, saying, “If you want to live in the city and hope to have any kind of dining establishment you’re going to have to make some compromises.”
Speaking of compromises, the sponsors of the Shared Spaces program hope that eventually, full streets can be closed to make space for outdoor dining and retail. Don’t expect that on Friday, however: According to the OEWD, “because these proposals would come with broader considerations such as impacts to Muni, these proposals will be considered on a case-by-case basis.” It’s likely that merchants’ associations in specific neighborhoods are the ones that will have to make that street closure push.
Finally, though Governor Newsom said last week that bars in California are cleared to reopen on Friday, that won’t be happening in San Francisco — at least, not unless they serve food. “Brewpubs, breweries, bars, pubs, craft distilleries, wineries, and tasting rooms that do not provide permitted sit-down meal service must remain closed to the public,” the new order says, “except for takeaway retail sales allowed by the order.”