It's been clear since early in the pandemic that San Francisco's once-vibrant restaurant scene was going to take a serious hit with nobody going out to eat. Concessions in public-health orders like allowing outdoor dining may have improved things slightly for some, though outdoor tables aren't possible on every street in every neighborhood, and this still only amounts to a fraction of the number of meals these restaurants would have been serving nightly during normal times.
According to credit-card data collected by the SF Chamber of Commerce and reported on today by Eater, things are looking quite grim for the restaurant industry citywide as we go into the sixth month of the pandemic, suggesting that not only are people not eating out as much as they were before, even with outdoor seating, they're also not ordering takeout in huge numbers from the restaurants that are open.
Based on aggregate data received by the Chamber on credit card transactions citywide, it appears that 51.5 percent of restaurants have had no transactions at all recently, suggesting they were either closed permanently or shut down temporarily. SF restaurants logged 84 percent less in sales in July 2020 than they did in July 2019 — a figure that is clearly affected by the closure of half the city's restaurants. And overall sales have reportedly dropped 91 percent since the pandemic began in March.
Extrapolating from those numbers, it would suggest that the restaurants that do remain open are doing about one-third of their regular business. And we know that restaurants are being impacted in multiple ways — by customers' reluctance to eat out, by having fewer tables than normal and shorter operating hours, and by decreased alcohol sales due to all of the above. Also, restaurants that typically served Union Square or Fisherman's Wharf tourists, or downtown office workers, are seeing little or no business at all, and have likely shut down.
Many restaurants that tried to stay open for the last several months, like Perbacco last month and Dear Inga as of this weekend, are choosing to shut down temporarily rather than continue to sustain losses, with the hope that there will come a point soon when they can reopen for more normal business, indoors.
"With much uncertainty for the remainder of 2020, we have made the decision to temporarily stop operations until the opportunity to invite our dear friends back into our restaurant," the Dear Inga team wrote in an Instagram post earlier this week. The restaurant will continue serving its to-go menu of sandwiches, smoked brisket, sausages, and cocktails through Sunday, August 29.
Other restaurants like Lazy Bear in the Mission are planning to stay open as takeout operations until their federal PPP loan funds run dry, and then things are less certain. As Lazy Bear chef/owner David Barzelay told the Chronicle recently, "If nothing changes before November, it’s going to be really hard to stay open at all."
After initially setting a date of July 13 for restaurants to resume indoor dining with some restrictions, the city of San Francisco — along with most Bay Area counties — pulled back on reopening plans as COVID case metrics began to rise. There is still no date estimated for when indoor dining might resume, and San Francisco remains on the state watch list until further notice.
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