San Francisco reopens restaurant eating rooms at 25% of capacities

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Restaurants in San Francisco were given a go-ahead yesterday to reopen their dining rooms immediately at 25% of pre-pandemic capacities, up to a limit of 100 customers at any given time, with the advisory that they follow new safety protocols from local health officials.  

With New York City restarting dine-in service yesterday at 25% of indoor capacities, most of the nation’s major urban restaurant markets are now offering interior table service again, with the notable exception of Los Angeles.  

San Francisco’s new safety rules include a ban on selling alcohol without the accompaniment of “bona fide food,” or fare prepared by the operation. “Serving prepackaged food like sandwiches or salads, or simply heating frozen or prepared meals, do not qualify as bona fide meals,” the guidelines state.

Several new safety recommendations are aimed at combating the spread of COVID-19 via aerosol transmission, a method of contamination not yet flagged as a serious danger by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but recognized as one by other health authorities. The San Francisco safety guidelines assume that a microscopic mist of particles carrying coronavirus can linger in the air for an extended period and pose a danger even if individuals remain six feet apart.

The National Restaurant Association is currently studying the issue to update its guidelines for safe restaurant operation.

San Francisco’s guidelines call on restaurants to run their HVAC systems even while the operations are closed, or to turn on the equipment at least an hour before the places open and at least two hours after they close.

Guest visits are limited to two hours, and service is required to cease at midnight, with places directed to shut down by 12:30 a.m.

Tables need to be rearranged or taken out of service to maintain six feet of space between parties. Typical self-service areas such as buffets, salad bars and condiment stations are prohibited.

The San Francisco Department of Health began its updated list of safety protocols with a heads-up that the reopening of dining rooms could be temporary. “It is possible–and even likely–that case numbers and other indicators will surge during the fall,” the guidelines state.

As in other markets that had yet to permit the resumption of dine-in service, local operators had been clamoring for the go-ahead to reopen dining rooms, or at least a plan as to when they could expect a go-ahead. Yesterday’s green light was applauded by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), the local trade group for the foodservice industry.

“We appreciate their willingness to work with the industry to provide guidelines designed to keep our cases down and reduce the spread in our community of this virus,” Laurie Thomas, executive director of the GGRA, said in a statement. “We do realize that indoor dining is not for everyone–be it diners or restaurants. Everyone will need to make their own decisions as to their comfort level. But this is an important step forward in the reopening process.”

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