SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — The new guidelines California Gov. Gavin Newsom unveiled Tuesday for dine-in eating at restaurants when they are allowed to open amid the COVID-19 pandemic left restaurateurs facing a host of major new changes and challenges.
The guidelines are leaving some restaurant owners wondering how and if they will be able to survive once they reopen to customers.
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Among the changes laid out by the state’s released new guidelines for restaurants include servers wearing masks and plastic partitions being installed at pay stations and in bar areas. It is a long list of things that will dramatically alter the dining experience for customers and business owners alike.
Most restaurant owners will have no choice but to make those guidelines work, because take-out and delivery is not going to cover the overhead.
“You are immediately going to be losing money if you do not have people sitting in their chairs in your restaurant,” said Megan Cornelius, co-owner of Zazie in San Francisco’s Cole Valley. “I mean, we’ve been doing takeout, but we lost 75 percent of our revenue.”
On Tuesday, the Zazie ownership team got its first glimpse of what dine-in layout for the restaurant might look like. Many of the state’s guidelines are detailed instructions on sanitation.
“We have been talking about that before,” Cornelius said of the safety protocols. “The salt and peppers, and the silverware and all those things. They’re little annoying nuances, but those things can be dealt with.”
The most critical section of the new guidelines dealt with distancing.
“Space is going to be the biggest challenge,” said Cornelius.
Capacity is the bottom line for any restaurant, but instead of capacity limits, the state wants all tables six feet apart.
“Our ideal was having eight tables in here and eight tables out on the patio,” Cornelius said of how they plan to maximize space in their existing confines. “Realistically, now, we are realizing we are probably going to have to get rid of a couple more tables than we had anticipated.”
Every restaurant will present a different puzzle for owners as they determine how to abide by the state’s rules. For some, there will be few solutions. Zazie is lucky to have a patio that currently serves as a storage area.
“If you don’t have an outdoor dining space and you are limited to the inside confines of your restaurant, I don’t know what to tell you” Cornelius said. “I don’t know how you will survive.”
It will take weeks for restaurant owners just to figure out how to make all of this work, if it can given their circumstances. Then there is another concern, shared by both restaurant owners and the governor.
“None of this means anything if customers don’t feel safe,” Governor Newsom said of the restaurant industry amid the pandemic.
It’s a looming issue the ownership at Zazie has considered as well.
“So our take-out business might still be flourishing, while we’re trying to do a full-service restaurant at limited capacity,” Cornelius says. “It’s a lot of challenges.”
Another interesting aspect of the new guidance issued by the state involves bars. While bar will likely not be reopening for some time, the guidelines did note that bars could be allowed to resume modified operation if they contract with a restaurant to serve dine-in meals and sell alcohol in the same transaction as a meal, as long as both businesses operated in accordance with the new guidelines.