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Is Indoor Dining Still Safe With the Delta Variant Spreading Right Now?

With surging case counts and new mask requirements in play, here’s what you need to know before heading to a restaurant or bar

A restaurant dining room with customers Getty Images
Lauren Saria is the editor of Eater SF and has been writing about food, drinks, and restaurants for more than a decade.

Less than eight weeks after California’s long-awaited reopening on June 15, when the state retired the colored tiers that provided structure as we eased back into some of our most beloved pre-pandemic activities, things are, arguably, not so good. COVID-19 cases in San Francisco are surging, due to the new delta variant, and if the tier system were still in play, it would land many Bay Area counties in either the most restrictive purple tier or the one just above, according to analysis by the Bay Area News Group.

On Monday a group of health officials from seven counties, including Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Sonoma, as well as the city of Berkeley, announced a joint indoor mask mandate that begins on August 3. And an increasing number of restaurants and bars around the region now require proof of vaccination before customers can enter.

So, where does that leave you if you managed to nab a coveted reservation at one of San Francisco’s hottest restaurants this weekend? Here’s what you need to know about dining out in the Bay Area right now.

Is it safe to dine indoors right now, given the delta variant?

Throughout the pandemic, health officials have never wavered on the stance that dining and drinking indoors — particularly if the restaurant or bar isn’t following social distancing guidelines — carries a high risk of spreading COVID-19. But as local health officials told the SF Chronicle, for vaccinated people it’s pretty unlikely that you’d get seriously ill even if you were to be exposed to and contract COVID-19 at a restaurant or bar, though there’s always the possibility you could pass it on to someone else. If you’re unvaccinated, you are at high risk, and you probably should stick to takeout. As always, the decision to dine indoors, outside in a parklet, or at home on your couch comes down to how much risk you’re willing to take on.

Do I need to wear a mask if I’m dining indoors?

As of August 3, the majority of Bay Area counties require masks to be worn when indoors in public spaces — which includes when you’re at a restaurant or bar. As in the past, that means you are required to wear a mask anytime you’re not eating or drinking, including every time a server approaches the table. The news of another mask mandate comes about two weeks after the same group of counties (Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Sonoma) and the city Berkeley began strongly advising everyone wear masks indoors in mid-July and lines up with CDC guidelines, too.

Do I need to prove that I’m vaccinated to go to a restaurant or bar?

Probably not, but maybe. There’s a small but growing number of Bay Area restaurants and bars requiring proof of vaccination in order to enter, including Hayes Street Grill, Gozu, Zuni Cafe, and Kona’s Street Market. The SF Bar Alliance, a group of nearly 500 local bar owners, endorsed the idea on July 26, but for now there’s not a mandate for Bay Area businesses.

What should I bring to a restaurant or bar that does want proof of vaccination?

It varies. You’ll want to check with the individual business, but most places will accept either your physical vaccination card or a digital copy, which you can get through the state. (Worth noting: the system is linked to California immunization records, so if you got your vaccine out of state, this won’t be an option.) Some bars and restaurants will also accept a photo of your vaccination card.