Dining outdoors in Santa Clara County? You'll have to keep your mask on for most of the meal | Peninsula Foodist | Elena Kadvany | Palo Alto Online |


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By Elena Kadvany

Dining outdoors in Santa Clara County? You'll have to keep your mask on for most of the meal

Uploaded: Jul 13, 2020

Starting Monday in Santa Clara County, people dining outdoors at restaurants must keep masks on at all times, except while eating or drinking -- including when they're seated at tables, interacting with waiters and waiting for their food.

These more stringent requirements come with Santa Clara County's new risk reduction order, which takes effect July 13. Previously, diners did not have to wear face coverings while they were seated outdoors at restaurants.

Diners eat at Local Union 271 on University Avenue in Palo Alto on June 27. Photo by Lloyd Lee.

Under specific requirements for outdoor dining, customers must now wear masks while: waiting in line; going to or from their table; ordering food or interacting with a server or staff member; seated at a table and waiting for food, drinks or a check to arrive; after consuming food and drinks; inside a facility to use a restroom or to order/pick up food from a quick-service operation; and "at other times that a facility requires to keep workers and customers safe."

Diners can take their masks off to eat or drink. Only children younger than 2 years old, people for whom face coverings are medically inadvisable or who are hearing impaired are exempt from the face covering requirements.

Restaurant workers, meanwhile, must wear masks at all times.

"Because they involve handling of consumable items and can also involve significant
interaction between members of different households, outdoor dining facilities, wineries, and tasting rooms must take extra precautions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission for their customers and staff," the county's outdoor dining guidance states.

The new directive is mandatory and failure to follow it is considered a violation of the county's health order.

In order to open for outdoor dining in Santa Clara County, a restaurant has to "allow for the free flow of outdoor air through the entire space," which the county defines as "the seating area must have at least three sides open, with no more than four-foot-high walls that do not impede the free flow of air through the space."

Beyond social distancing requirements and capacity limitations, the county also recommends restaurants take additional steps to further minimize contact between staff and diners. They should consider allowing customers to place their orders before they arrive, limiting the number of staff members who serve individual parties ("consider assigning the same server to each party for the entire experience") and seating parties one at a time, the order states.

Servers are required to wash or sanitize their hands between interacting with each party, the order reads.

Restaurants should "prevent crowding while customers wait for tables," the county order reads. They must require diners to wait for tables in their cars or somewhere outdoors where they can "comfortably" stay 6 feet away from people from other households.

A waitress from Kappo Nami Nami brings food customers dining at tables placed on Castro Street in downtown Mountain View on July 2, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

To maximize spacing between tables, Santa Clara County is encouraging restaurants to expand outdoor seating where possible along rights of way or other outdoor areas as approved by local jurisdictions. (Cities that have closed main thoroughfares to traffic and allowed restaurants to spill into the streets include Palo Alto, Mountain View, Menlo Park, Los Altos, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo and Sunnyvale.

Restaurants also only sell alcohol in conjunction with a meal (which the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control recently defined in great detail — pretzels, pizza bites, calamari, pot stickers, cups of soup and onion rings are among the items the ABC does not consider a "bona fide meal.")

All county businesses were required to submit updated social distancing protocols online by Monday. The protocol must also be distributed to employees and be accessible to county officials enforcing the order.

According to an email the county's Consumer Protection Division sent to a local restaurant owner last week, health inspectors have for several weeks been conducting the "usual" food inspections while also checking to see if food facilities are following the health order.

Santa Clara County has not yet allowed indoor dining to resume, though neighboring San Mateo County has -- though on Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered restaurants statewide to cease indoor operations.

Food facilities — which include restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops, bakeries, food trucks, catering businesses, convenience stores and other facilities that store, package, prepare, serve, and sell food with a valid permit from the Department of Environmental Health — must also adhere to specific mandates under the county's order.

"While these businesses are an essential link in society's food supply chain, they can also pose significant risks to public health in light of the COVID-19 pandemic," the directive for food facilities reads. "Because they involve food-handling and can also involve significant interaction between members of different households and between staff and the public, food facilities must take extra precautions to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission for their customers and staff."

While outdoor tasting rooms and wineries are allowed to reopen under the order, bars, breweries, brewpubs, pubs, distilleries and clubs that do not themselves provide permitted sit-down meal service in Santa Clara County must remain closed for both indoor and outdoor service (though they may sell retail products for takeout only).