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San Francisco Officials Expect to Reopen Indoor Dining on March 3

SF will reopen dining rooms as soon as the city reaches the red tier of reopening

The empty dining room of San Francisco restaurant Sociale
The dining room of Sociale is dark now, but can reopen to diners as of March 3
Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

During a Wednesday webinar from San Francisco’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, SF Deputy Health Officer Dr. Susan Philip announced that SF restaurant owners should plan to reopen their dining rooms on March 3, assuming that COVID-19 infection rates continue to drop.

Of course, if there’s anything the past year has taught us, it’s that nothing is certain. Philip made clear that those dates could change if infection rates increase, or if state officials make changes to their reopening plan.

While San Francisco remains in the most restrictive, purple tier of the state’s color-coded reopening map, state and local officials have confirmed that the California Department of Public Health expects to move SF down to the red tier on March 2. According to Philip, the day after it enters the red tier, San Francisco is expected to resume the activities allowed by the state, including indoor dining at a reduced capacity of 25 percent or 100 people. San Francisco will be the third Bay Area county to reopen indoor dining, joining Marin and San Mateo counties, both of which opened dining rooms on February 24.

When San Francisco last entered the red tier, in August of 2020, SF officials insisted that indoor dining be delayed until the city moved into the even less restrictive orange tier (but allowed reopening only at the more-restrictive, red-tier levels). This time, there will not be any such delay.

In addition to the 25 percent capacity limit, restaurants may only allow members of the same household to share a table, with a maximum of four people. Meanwhile, outdoor dining will allow tables of up to three households, with a limit of six diners.

The announcement — and lack of a lag — was welcome news to the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), the city’s dining lobby. In a statement, the organization said “we are grateful that the Mayor, Dr. Philip, Dr. Colfax, and the Department of Public Health will allow San Francisco to follow the state’s tier regulations.” In other words, to reopen immediately, as opposed to setting their own stricter local guidance.

The move into the red tier also means that San Francisco’s curfew, which requires restaurants to shut down all seated dining by 10 p.m., will be lifted. The curfew was initially a state-mandated restriction, one that was lifted at that level as of late January. But San Francisco kept it in place, the county health director said at the time, because officials wanted to “see how [COVID-19] numbers do to ensure that we don’t have to reverse again.”

But though the curfew is gone, indoor dining must shut down by 10 p.m. every night, Philip says. Outdoor dining can remain open past 10 p.m., assuming diners wish to remain out in SF’s evening chill.

Bars without food must remain shuttered under the red tier, Philip confirmed. Bars that serve food (either their own, or with a partner) may also open indoor service at 25 percent at a maximum of 100 people.

It’s been a long road back to indoor dining for San Francisco restaurants, which reopened at 25 percent capacity on September 30, 2020. Six weeks later, COVID-19 cases skyrocketed by 250 percent, prompting the city to shut dining rooms back down on November 13, reverting to outdoor dining and takeout only. As infections continued to spike, even outdoor dining was shut down, with most of the Bay Area limited to takeout only as of December 6.

According to the GGRA, a second rollback of openings is not an option. “Any additional closures will have drastic economic consequences, including temporary and permanent closures,” they said via statement. “We urge our restaurant members and San Francisco residents to follow these regulations, in order to give us the best chance to keep this reopening permanent.”