News

Santa Clara County restaurants brace for outdoor dining ban starting this Sunday

Eateries will have to return to takeout, delivery only

Diners eat lunch on California Avenue in Palo Alto in November. The street has been closed to traffic for months to allow restaurants to serve more customers outdoors. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Bay Area officials' Friday announcement that they will expedite the state's new stay-at-home order means that Santa Clara County restaurants have just two days before outdoor dining will be shut down temporarily.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Thursday that all sectors other than retail and essential operations would be closed in regions of the state where less than 15% of intensive care unit beds are available under a new regional stay-at-home order. But five Bay Area counties — Santa Clara, San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa and Marin counties — and the city of Berkeley decided to implement the new order in the coming days rather than wait until local hospitals are near crisis.

Santa Clara County restaurants will have to revert to takeout and delivery only as of this Sunday, Dec. 6, at 10 p.m., through at least Jan. 4.

"We understand that the closures under the state order will have a profound impact on our local businesses," Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said. "However, if we act quickly, we can both save lives and reduce the amount of time these restrictions have to stay in place, allowing businesses and activities to reopen sooner."

It's a blow — though not an altogether surprising one given mounting warnings about unprecedented levels of COVID-19 in the region — for restaurants that have been relying on outdoor dining to bring in revenue, particularly during the holidays when their dining rooms would usually be booked for parties and corporate events. Many invested in parklets and extensive outdoor dining set-ups, particularly in streets that have been closed to traffic like University Avenue in Palo Alto, Castro Street in Mountain View and Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park. In the wake of the news, several restaurants announced temporary closures, including Steins Beer Garden & Restaurant in Mountain View.

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"Going back to takeout and delivery, it's going to be really hard. It's not a model we can survive on," said Anu Bhambri, who owns Rooh on University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto. "Without any stimulus package or any help from the government it's going to be very hard to survive."

Rooh's landlord paid to build the restaurant's parklet, Bhambri said, but she recently purchased additional heaters and new tents to prepare for the winter. She immediately thought of the implications for inventory at Rooh, where outdoor dining sales outpace takeout.

The owners of Rooh Palo Alto quickly built a parklet outside their Indian restaurant at 473 University Ave. this summer, but as of Dec. 6, Santa Clara County is banning outdoor dining due to the coronavirus, limiting restaurants to takeout and delivery. Photo by Elena Kadvany.

Patio heaters are just one of the additional costs Zareen Khan has incurred for outdoor dining at her eponymous restaurants in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Redwood City. Heaters that used to go for $150 are now as expensive as $400 and much harder to come by, she said.

She's frustrated by the new restrictions, which she said are penalizing small businesses that have already been barely treading water for eight months. She's reduced prices at Zareen's and feels like she's constantly advertising discounts to bring in more business. She told her employees on Friday that they will start taking turns taking time off to manage staffing levels with the loss of outdoor dining.

"I request the county be more creative in how to control COVID," Khan said. "Closing businesses is not a solution."

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During a press conference on Friday, Contra Costa Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano said "any kind of activity that involves taking off your mask to eat or drink — even though outdoors is safer, even outdoors poses a risk for COVID spread. With the high risk of transmission in our communities, outdoor dining is more risky than it was two months ago."

Traffic has been closed on the first four blocks of Castro Street in downtown Mountain View since June in an effort to revitalize restaurant activity. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Lars Smith, co-owner of State of Mind Public House in Los Altos, felt a grim kind of resilience in the face of Friday's news. He feels better equipped to help his restaurant navigate another shutdown, having done it before. He knows now that he can keep on more staff than he did in March, when in a panic they laid off front-of-house staff and cut employees' hours — and then were overwhelmed by a spike in takeout business.

At La Bodeguita del Medio in Palo Alto, however, co-owner Michael Ekwall was facing the realization that without outdoor dining, he'll have to cut his staff of 18 employees to about six. He's also bracing for the stay-at-home order to last beyond early January.

"It's a challenge to have to indefinitely let most of our people go," he said. "I don't think realistically that we're going to bounce back and this is going to be over on Jan. 4. I wonder how many of my business comrades are going to make it through this period."

On Sunday, Palo Alto wine bar Vino Locale launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for employees whose hours will be cut or will potentially be laid off due to the shutdown.

Judy Kleinberg, CEO of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, predicted there will be a spike in unemployment applications in the wake of the new stay-at-home order.

"Because it's only takeout, all those waiters and bus boys and girls are going to be laid off," she said. "The economic downstream damage is not just to the restaurant. It's the workforce that really takes the brunt of this."

She's been advocating at the county level for relief for small businesses; the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is set to discuss next week a proposed small business loan program as well as a cap on the delivery fees third party platforms can charge restaurants.

[smchealth.org/health-officer-updates/december-7-2020-health-officer-statement San Mateo County is not participating in the early order, but at least one restaurant -- Flea St. Cafe Menlo Park -- decided to shut down outdoor dining anyway and others started preparing to do so. Camper in Menlo Park posted on Instagram that it's "clearing house of some delectables," advertising deals on porterhouse and ribeye steaks and mussels.

Across the Peninsula, local restaurateurs' minds were quickly turning to ideas for boosting business, from social media posts advertising the final two days of outdoor dining this weekend to new takeout menus. Pavel Sirotin of Bevri in Palo Alto said he plans to revive a ghost kitchen concept he tested out a few months ago and is exploring other partnerships to stay afloat.

Several owners expressed a sadly common refrain in the industry: Without another federal support package, many independent restaurants will not make it through another shutdown.

"We're getting mostly restrictions and closures without any help to survive," Sirotin said.

Sirotin urged people to continue ordering takeout from locally owned restaurants, which he recently heard described as a "citizen's responsibility."

"It's really true. If we want to keep eating good and interesting food ... we need to get together and help independent restaurants," he said.

According to a National Restaurant Association survey conducted in November, 17% of restaurants — more than 110,000 establishments — have closed permanently or long-term. The vast majority of restaurants that have closed for good were "well-established businesses, and fixtures in their communities" that on average had been in business for 16 years, and 16% had been open for at least 30 years, the National Restaurant Association said.

Fifty-eight percent of chain and independent full-service restaurants expect continued furloughs and layoffs for at least the next three months, the survey found.

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Santa Clara County restaurants brace for outdoor dining ban starting this Sunday

Eateries will have to return to takeout, delivery only

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Fri, Dec 4, 2020, 3:58 pm

Bay Area officials' Friday announcement that they will expedite the state's new stay-at-home order means that Santa Clara County restaurants have just two days before outdoor dining will be shut down temporarily.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Thursday that all sectors other than retail and essential operations would be closed in regions of the state where less than 15% of intensive care unit beds are available under a new regional stay-at-home order. But five Bay Area counties — Santa Clara, San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa and Marin counties — and the city of Berkeley decided to implement the new order in the coming days rather than wait until local hospitals are near crisis.

Santa Clara County restaurants will have to revert to takeout and delivery only as of this Sunday, Dec. 6, at 10 p.m., through at least Jan. 4.

"We understand that the closures under the state order will have a profound impact on our local businesses," Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said. "However, if we act quickly, we can both save lives and reduce the amount of time these restrictions have to stay in place, allowing businesses and activities to reopen sooner."

It's a blow — though not an altogether surprising one given mounting warnings about unprecedented levels of COVID-19 in the region — for restaurants that have been relying on outdoor dining to bring in revenue, particularly during the holidays when their dining rooms would usually be booked for parties and corporate events. Many invested in parklets and extensive outdoor dining set-ups, particularly in streets that have been closed to traffic like University Avenue in Palo Alto, Castro Street in Mountain View and Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park. In the wake of the news, several restaurants announced temporary closures, including Steins Beer Garden & Restaurant in Mountain View.

"Going back to takeout and delivery, it's going to be really hard. It's not a model we can survive on," said Anu Bhambri, who owns Rooh on University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto. "Without any stimulus package or any help from the government it's going to be very hard to survive."

Rooh's landlord paid to build the restaurant's parklet, Bhambri said, but she recently purchased additional heaters and new tents to prepare for the winter. She immediately thought of the implications for inventory at Rooh, where outdoor dining sales outpace takeout.

Patio heaters are just one of the additional costs Zareen Khan has incurred for outdoor dining at her eponymous restaurants in Palo Alto, Mountain View and Redwood City. Heaters that used to go for $150 are now as expensive as $400 and much harder to come by, she said.

She's frustrated by the new restrictions, which she said are penalizing small businesses that have already been barely treading water for eight months. She's reduced prices at Zareen's and feels like she's constantly advertising discounts to bring in more business. She told her employees on Friday that they will start taking turns taking time off to manage staffing levels with the loss of outdoor dining.

"I request the county be more creative in how to control COVID," Khan said. "Closing businesses is not a solution."

During a press conference on Friday, Contra Costa Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano said "any kind of activity that involves taking off your mask to eat or drink — even though outdoors is safer, even outdoors poses a risk for COVID spread. With the high risk of transmission in our communities, outdoor dining is more risky than it was two months ago."

Lars Smith, co-owner of State of Mind Public House in Los Altos, felt a grim kind of resilience in the face of Friday's news. He feels better equipped to help his restaurant navigate another shutdown, having done it before. He knows now that he can keep on more staff than he did in March, when in a panic they laid off front-of-house staff and cut employees' hours — and then were overwhelmed by a spike in takeout business.

At La Bodeguita del Medio in Palo Alto, however, co-owner Michael Ekwall was facing the realization that without outdoor dining, he'll have to cut his staff of 18 employees to about six. He's also bracing for the stay-at-home order to last beyond early January.

"It's a challenge to have to indefinitely let most of our people go," he said. "I don't think realistically that we're going to bounce back and this is going to be over on Jan. 4. I wonder how many of my business comrades are going to make it through this period."

On Sunday, Palo Alto wine bar Vino Locale launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for employees whose hours will be cut or will potentially be laid off due to the shutdown.

Judy Kleinberg, CEO of the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, predicted there will be a spike in unemployment applications in the wake of the new stay-at-home order.

"Because it's only takeout, all those waiters and bus boys and girls are going to be laid off," she said. "The economic downstream damage is not just to the restaurant. It's the workforce that really takes the brunt of this."

She's been advocating at the county level for relief for small businesses; the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors is set to discuss next week a proposed small business loan program as well as a cap on the delivery fees third party platforms can charge restaurants.

[smchealth.org/health-officer-updates/december-7-2020-health-officer-statement San Mateo County is not participating in the early order, but at least one restaurant -- Flea St. Cafe Menlo Park -- decided to shut down outdoor dining anyway and others started preparing to do so. Camper in Menlo Park posted on Instagram that it's "clearing house of some delectables," advertising deals on porterhouse and ribeye steaks and mussels.

Across the Peninsula, local restaurateurs' minds were quickly turning to ideas for boosting business, from social media posts advertising the final two days of outdoor dining this weekend to new takeout menus. Pavel Sirotin of Bevri in Palo Alto said he plans to revive a ghost kitchen concept he tested out a few months ago and is exploring other partnerships to stay afloat.

Several owners expressed a sadly common refrain in the industry: Without another federal support package, many independent restaurants will not make it through another shutdown.

"We're getting mostly restrictions and closures without any help to survive," Sirotin said.

Sirotin urged people to continue ordering takeout from locally owned restaurants, which he recently heard described as a "citizen's responsibility."

"It's really true. If we want to keep eating good and interesting food ... we need to get together and help independent restaurants," he said.

According to a National Restaurant Association survey conducted in November, 17% of restaurants — more than 110,000 establishments — have closed permanently or long-term. The vast majority of restaurants that have closed for good were "well-established businesses, and fixtures in their communities" that on average had been in business for 16 years, and 16% had been open for at least 30 years, the National Restaurant Association said.

Fifty-eight percent of chain and independent full-service restaurants expect continued furloughs and layoffs for at least the next three months, the survey found.

Comments

Hong T.
Registered user
Community Center
on Dec 4, 2020 at 4:09 pm
Hong T., Community Center
Registered user
on Dec 4, 2020 at 4:09 pm

Although I do not dine outdoors, I think that banning outdoor dining is going too far. I am aware of the risks, but I am getting a bit tired of always being the most conservative county in the most conservative state in the nation. People are thinking about how to survive financially through another round of lockdowns, there must be another way other than applying a hammer to the problem. Folks are wondering why their packages are getting stolen and their cars broken into, these are the folks that are getting laid off from restaurants and need to find FOOD for their families!


chris
Registered user
University South
on Dec 4, 2020 at 7:56 pm
chris, University South
Registered user
on Dec 4, 2020 at 7:56 pm

Hong,

You make the case for another CARES bill. It is not right for the elite of places like Palo Alto to make the economically challenged work in unsafe conditions which spread a deadly disease. If society supports them, we are are healthier.


Anonymous
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 4, 2020 at 8:02 pm
Anonymous, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Dec 4, 2020 at 8:02 pm

Well, San Mateo County is not doing that. Interesting public health assertion (not just protecting restaurants/local econmy).


Tanya
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 4, 2020 at 10:09 pm
Tanya, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 4, 2020 at 10:09 pm

I am with San Mateo on this. A more balanced approach would work much better. Are you now saying that I cannot take a walk with a friend socially distanced and wearing a mask, you come an arrest me then, for the first time I will NOT be following some of these very unreasonable rules. Guess what this is going to do, drive people INDOORS, where they are protected by privacy laws. Outdoor recreation and dining is safe (although I am OK w some inspection of some of the outdoor dining set ups, which seem to have less and less open air as the cold weather comes in!). I am a fan of Sarah Cody, she has done a good job, but this is taking things too far.


[email protected]
Registered user
Mountain View
on Dec 4, 2020 at 10:58 pm
[email protected], Mountain View
Registered user
on Dec 4, 2020 at 10:58 pm

Finally, someone with a medical background said what I was talking about months ago.

"During a press conference on Friday, Contra Costa Health Officer Dr. Chris Farnitano said "any kind of activity that involves taking off your mask to eat or drink — even though outdoors is safer, even outdoors poses a risk for COVID spread. With the high risk of transmission in our communities, outdoor dining is more risky than it was two months ago."

WHY DID WE HAVE TO LET IT GET MORE RISKY?

This was the slow boil of the frog.

And watch, I will have a dozen posters attack me for saying this.


Linda
Registered user
College Terrace
on Dec 5, 2020 at 2:39 am
Linda, College Terrace
Registered user
on Dec 5, 2020 at 2:39 am

I am disappointed that some restaurants keep promoting the outdoor experience and trying to get people excited about going out during a pandemic that has taken so many lives. Some places even have tents that close on the sides. How safe it is to be outdoors eating, drinking and talking without a mask inside a tent that is closed on the side? It seems like an "indoor" experience for me. Our governor is asking us to stay home to make sure that we don't run out of hospital beds, for us to stay home so we save lives. Today I saw a few Palo Alto restaurants continue inviting people to come to their location because they will still be open for in-person meals until Sunday. I find it absurd.


Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Dec 5, 2020 at 6:51 am
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Dec 5, 2020 at 6:51 am

>"...I am getting a bit tired of always being the most conservative county in the most conservative state in the nation."

^ That observation/comment is a bit of a stretch...have you traveled to other parts of California & the USA?


[email protected]
Registered user
Mountain View
on Dec 5, 2020 at 6:49 pm
[email protected], Mountain View
Registered user
on Dec 5, 2020 at 6:49 pm

IF the ICU's stay as short as they are, the REGIONAL shutdowns will continue.

The from this website says: (Web Link reads:

"SAHO ICU bed % available as of December 5, 2020 for the 5 regions:

For regions under 15%, the Regional Stay Home Order goes into effect Sunday, December 6, 2020 at 11:59 PM.

The current 7 day average has Santa Clara at 17% seen here (Web Link).

But that is 7 days delayed, obviously the Department of Health knows we are already below 15%, there were 359 available beds on Thursday, and only 344 beds on Friday. 15 NEW patients from Thursday to Friday. 344 available beds where there were 319 used for COVID patients and 1690 beds used for the rest. The total bed count is 344+319+1690= 2343. 344/2343 is 14.68%. ow I understand we are part of a Region, but Santa Clara County is below the 15% threshold NOW

On Sunday November 15 we had 608 available beds. That would have been 25% free ICU beds. Boy are we going in the WRONG direction.


Ned
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 7, 2020 at 11:57 am
Ned, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Dec 7, 2020 at 11:57 am

I was talking to a restaurant owner on California Ave last night, Sunday. They were told on Friday to clear California Ave of all outdoor tents, heaters & furniture by this evening, Monday night. The City wants to open the street to traffic. I think such arbitrary decisions without any community consultation hurts the restaurant businesses financially and otherwise. What is the urgency to open up California Ave to traffic? What traffic amid a lockdown? Why the rush and such short notice? Wasn’t outdoor dining supposed to remain in place until May anyway? So will restaurants have to pay out of pocket again to reset up tents, etc on Jan 5? Those responsible in Palo Alto should stop making arbitrary decisions that hurt our business community.


Lee Forrest
Registered user
Crescent Park
on Dec 7, 2020 at 1:13 pm
Lee Forrest, Crescent Park
Registered user
on Dec 7, 2020 at 1:13 pm

>"I was talking to a restaurant owner...
The City wants to open the street to traffic...What is the urgency to open up California Ave to traffic? What traffic amid a lockdown?"

^ More expedient take-home dining & delivery food service?

No one enjoys eating meals not served at their optimum temperatures.


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