On Thursday, San Francisco’s assistant health officer, Dr. Susan Philip, announced that restaurants in the city can expect indoor dining capacity to increase to 50 percent on Thursday, March 25 – the morning after the city plans to take a lower risk its tiered approach to reopening. Bars that do not serve food that have remained closed under the current restrictions are preparing for the biggest change as they can finally be opened for outdoor service due to the relaxed restrictions. So far they have been limited to retail sales.
San Francisco is expected to switch to the Orange Tier as early as March 24th. This includes increasing capacity for retail stores, restaurants, gyms, and more, as well as enabling outdoor bars and additional youth sports.
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The announcement comes as San Francisco prepares to move from the red tier (indicating a “significant” risk of infection) to the orange tier (indicating a “moderate” risk). Anne Taupier, development director at the city’s economic and human resource development office, made it clear that these plans could change if infection rates rise or if state officials readjust their criteria for further reopening.
Restricted indoor eating resumed on March 3 in San Francisco after the city pulled out of the purple plain – the most restrictive, banning indoor eating and imposing a curfew on outdoor dining. This was the first time since last November, when restaurants in town saw COVID-19 cases rise by 250 percent.
Currently, with the city in the red zone, restaurants serving indoor dining can only accommodate members of a common household at each table of no more than four people, and their total dining room occupancy cannot exceed 25 percent. Members of up to three households with a maximum of six guests can gather at tables outside. And while those who enjoy alfresco dining could do so as late as they wanted (or until a restaurant closes for the night), indoor dining is currently limited to a 10pm curfew.
When San Francisco joins the orange row on March 24th, Restaurants can increase their indoor spaces to 50 percent, and the indoor curfew is extended by one hour to 11 p.m. In addition to the adjusted capacity limit and curfew Restaurants are now allowed to seat members of three households at each table in their dining rooms, with a maximum of six people per group.
Announcing relaxed restrictions is most effective for bars that do not offer food service and that are not yet allowed to reopen. In the new orange row, on the condition that the guests sit and do not have to mingle with other tables, they can be reopened for outdoor service – also to get in touch with members of the same household. Bars serving food that can be reopened at 25 percent of their indoor drinking capacity can increase their capacity under the new indoor dining regulations. In addition, bars and restaurants that offer outdoor service can now serve alcohol without having to serve food.
The upcoming guidelines are also good news for food courts: in the red row they were allowed to work with either 25 percent capacity or 100 people, whichever is smaller. When they enter the orange step, they can increase their capacity to 50 percent, with a limit of 200 people.
The news was greeted by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, the city’s food lobby. “We are very excited about these new instructions almost a week before the expected reopening, which will enable our companies to implement the necessary measures and bring additional staff back safely and on time,” said a statement from the organization.
San Francisco bars and restaurants have had a tumultuous year of city-mandated closings and reopenings. However, with the advent of vaccination and the protection of guests and restaurant staff from COVID-19, the grueling cycle of opening and closing could come to an end in a few months. It is still possible that there will be a further spike in some cases, especially if the dining rooms are crowded, but restaurant insiders hope this won’t be the case this time around. “We continue to urge our restaurant members and residents of San Francisco to adhere to these regulations,” said the restaurant association, “to give us the best chance we can move forward and reopen fully.”