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San Francisco Shouldn’t Expect Indoor Dining Until ‘Mid October,’ Maybe Later

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Dining rooms have reopened in Santa Cruz and Napa, but remain shut in the rest of the Bay Area

The expansive bar at Richmond District tavern Violet’s won’t seat any patrons until October, at least, says SF’s top restaurant lobbyist.
Patricia Chang

Though dining rooms in the Bay Area are starting to welcome visitors in the region’s northern and southern bits, not every county that’s been allowed to reopen indoor service plans on doing so in the near future. San Francisco, for example, has had the green light from state officials to serve food indoors since August 31, but when city officials announced its new roadmap to reopening, restaurants weren’t even on the list. According to the head of the city’s restaurant lobby, talks with San Francisco officials are ongoing, but she doesn’t expect any changes to the current plan for six weeks, maybe more.

According to the state’s new, color-coded reopening system, four Bay Area counties presently have COVID-19 numbers that are low enough to move them from the “purple” (the most dire level, with a “widespread risk” of coronavirus infection) to “red” (“substantial risk”): Napa, San Francisco, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz. Napa County reopened dining rooms as soon as they were allowed on August 31; and Santa Cruz moved into the red on Tuesday, saying in a statement that indoor dining could resume as of September 8.

Santa Clara also went into the red on Tuesday, but won’t allow indoor dining, saying via a statement that while some business sectors will reopen, for now, restaurants must stick with outdoor service.

The same has been true of San Francisco, and it’s a state of affairs that’s likely to continue, warns Laurie Thomas, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, the lobbying group for SF’s restaurant industry. According to Thomas, the group “had a good meeting” with city officials including Mayor London Breed, Grant Colfax (the director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health), and SF health officer Tomás Aragon.

Right now, Thomas says, the city places indoor dining at number 14 on its list of priorities, along with a slew of other businesses not presently allowed to open by the state, like bars without food, convention centers, and concert venues. All those businesses grouped under number 14 are listed as “TBD,” which doesn’t give much comfort to restaurateurs that are just trying to figure out a plan for the future.

Unfortunately, says Thomas, “there were no decisions out of the meeting,” and indoor dining remains a TBD matter. Even though “we spent almost an hour updating them on the dire state of the industry,” Thomas says, “and why we need to be allowed to move toward reopening indoor dining as soon as possible and as safely as possible.”

When Eater SF asked Colfax about the reasons behind the reopening delay last week, he said “there are a number things [about indoor dining] that are concerning there,” including “people sitting down for long periods of time, in crowded quarters and in the indoors, taking off masks.”

And according to the DPH, there are specific concerns when it comes to San Francisco: namely, how closely packed its 900,000 (or so) residents are. “San Francisco is a dense urban city,” a spokesperson tells KPIX, and “we must be more vigilant.”

But though the DPH spokesperson says that “As long as San Francisco continues to make progress slowing the spread of COVID-19 we can get businesses and workers back on their feet,” Thomas says that restaurants are unlikely to welcome patrons inside any time soon. “Currently,” Thomas says, “I would not plan on indoor dining being allowed anytime before early to mid October at the earliest.” So, for the next several weeks at least, San Francisco diners might have to travel north or south to grab an indoor bite.