The delicate dance of permitting limited indoor dining begins today in some SF restaurants, as the mayor announced Tuesday that they can now allow guests indoors at 25-percent capacity. But with the new freedom to serve people indoors come a bunch of new restrictions aimed at curbing the potential spread of COVID-19 — and servers are going to be entering some brand-new territory when it comes to scofflaw (drunk) patrons who don't abide by the new rules.
The city's Department of Public Health published twelve pages of "interim guidance" for food facilities on Wednesday, and as Eater reports, there's a bunch of stuff in there you might not have expected, rules-wise, when restaurants finally reopened. Televisions, for instance, aren't going to be allowed to be on in those restaurants that have them — sports bars that serve food like Hi Tops and Public House aren't exactly going to feel the same with the TVs all dark.
"Entertainment is not permitted indoors at this time," the guidance states. "This includes live entertainment or televisions, or other types of screens."
Hopefully the windows will be open to some sort of non-singing guitar player out on the street?
This rule seems aimed at not giving anyone reason to stay at a table longer than they need to for sustenance — and, in fact, the guidance also says tables should be shooed away after two hours, which... will restaurateurs really enforce this?
Also, you're going to face a fair number of questions before and after entering. Hosts and hostesses may be checking temperatures at the door, and they'll be barraging you with questions about any recent COVID symptoms or tests, or close contacts with anyone infected. Once seated, servers may ask your table to voluntarily provide names and phone numbers for contact-tracing purposes.
And, servers are going to need training in de-escalation techniques — just like police! — in order to deal with people who aren't wearing their masks while not eating or drinking, and those who are over-served and may be lingering and/or shout-talking too long, or fraternizing with other tables, or overstaying their welcome.
For larger restaurants around town, going through all of this may make sense. But as we've reported earlier, smaller restaurants aren't like to take the chance of infecting their staff for the little revenue that filling a couple tables at a time will provide.
Wise Sons co-founder Evan Bloom tells Eater that he's still not comfortable with dining indoors, so he can't expect his staff to deal with it either. There are likely to be a lot of restaurant owners who feel this way, but there are also likely to be plenty who are eager just to make a little more money toward rent, at long last.
We'll see how this experiment goes — and, also, it's happening in New York right now too.
Photo: Dan Gold