Sharon Lesec and Philip Stephanou were among the diners having lunch on Castro Street on June 5. They used a menu on their phones to order fish and chips, a burger and beers from St. Stephen's Green.
"It's a mood lifter," Lesec said of dining out after months of takeout and home cooking. "We planned this last week and I have been looking forward to eating at a restaurant. It's nice just to be able to enjoy the outdoors and socialization, in a safe way. I feel very comfortable."
At Town & Country Village in Palo Alto, several restaurants now have additional tables set up in "parklets" built in the parking spaces outside. Signage reminds customers to stay 6 feet apart and to keep their masks on unless they're eating. At Teleferic Barcelona, a waiter wearing a face shield and black nitrile gloves served tables from a safe distance. The Spanish restaurant is taking employees' temperatures before each shift and has increased sanitation of all front- and back-of-house spaces.
"It was wonderful to put food on plates, drinks in real glasses and serve our guests and friends," the owners of La Bodeguita del Medio on California Avenue posted to Instagram on June 6. "The first big exhale in a while." (The Cuban restaurant only had three outdoor tables capped with two diners each and reservations were required.)
In downtown Palo Alto, the owners of Indian restaurant Rooh worked with the city and their landlord to build a new parklet in just two days. It allowed them to add four more tables, where diners on Friday night used a QR code to access a digital menu on their phones. (Those who prefer a paper menu can ask for a disposable one.)
"With the new dining regulations, dining is going to look a little different," said a masked Rooh waiter, noting that silverware would only come out when dishes were served instead of sitting on tables.
At Salvaje, a downtown Palo Alto wine bar, owner Kasim Syed texted a photo of the limited menu to customers and asked whether they preferred him to wear gloves. He was sanitizing the bathroom every half hour and cleaning tables and chairs between customers. He posted coronavirus posters from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at each entrance to the wine bar's two outdoor patios.
"It's all going to be a learning experience as we're doing it right now," Syed said.
Over the weekend, some restaurants, including Left Bank Brasserie in Menlo Park, started by allowing customers to eat takeout at outdoor tables before adding full table service. Menlo Park's Flea St. Cafe reopened this Wednesday, June 10, in a hybrid model, asking customers to continue to place and pay for their orders online in advance with the option of reserving an outdoor table. Staff will bring them their dinner in a bag, including compostable plates and flatware, which they can unpack themselves and eat outside. Afterward, the restaurant will compost everything and sanitize the table for the next diners.
"We are starting very conservatively in order to create a safe and respectful minimal-touch dining experience," Flea St. owner Jesse Cool said. "We feel protective of our staff and guests."
Other owners are also moving cautiously on outdoor dining, taking the time to set up all the necessary procedures and train staff. Rocco Scordella, who reopened the patio of his Palo Alto restaurant, Vina Enoteca, this week, is requiring all of his employees to get tested for the coronavirus on a weekly basis.
"Once they all receive their results I will feel better," he said.
Eateries that were lucky to already have outdoor dining areas or parklets were able to open more quickly over the weekend, while others are still waiting for their cities to close main thoroughfares to traffic to give them space to serve diners outside. If city leaders don't act quickly, they worry they'll start losing takeout business to customers who choose to patronize the restaurants that have already reopened for outdoor dining.
In downtown Los Altos, restaurant owners said the city's regulations effectively prevented them from putting any tables on sidewalks over the weekend. The city instructed owners that tables should be 10 or more feet away from one another and also 10 feet from the public right-of-way or sidewalk to allow pedestrians to walk through, according to an email from Economic Development Coordinator Anthony Carnesecca.
"Our only path to survival is for outdoor space," said Vickie Breslin, owner of The Post in Los Altos. "(We) need to figure a plan out as we are dead since everyone else can serve outside or have a patio."
She and other Los Altos business owners are hoping the city temporarily closes Main and State streets to traffic. The City Council, despite some members' concerns about implementation, decided this week to pilot the closures from Thursday, June 18, through Sunday, June 22. The council asked staff to bring back a report on June 23 before deciding whether to extend the closures beyond one weekend.
In downtown Redwood City, Anne Le Ziblatt eagerly started planning to serve diners outside her Main Street restaurant, Nam Vietnamese Brasserie. Her public relations firm sent out an announcement that Nam would reopen for outdoor dining on Tuesday, June 9 — and then Le Ziblatt learned from the city that without an existing outdoor dining permit, she couldn't actually do so.
This week, however, she and other Main Street restaurant owners put socially distanced tables outside their buildings while preserving the public right of way and are waiting for the City Council to temporarily close streets and allow restaurants to use sidewalks, parking spaces and parking lots. A city task force is exploring full and partial rotating closure of streets, including Main Street between Middlefield Road and Broadway Street and parts of Broadway, on Fridays through Sundays.
On Tuesday, the City Council "expressed an eagerness to launch a program as soon as possible," said Communications Manager Jennifer Yamaguma, and will consider approval at its June 22 meeting.
According to a staff report, the city is targeting a start date of July 11 — which Le Ziblatt said is too far off for hard-hit restaurants.
"It's one of those things where if you're going to take that long ... it's not going to be useful," she said. "People are hanging on by their fingernails waiting for an opportunity. A lot of people are operating just waiting for that moment."
The city of Palo Alto closed California Avenue to traffic on Thursday, June 11, and plans to roll out a similar program on University Avenue in about two weeks, despite opposition from some business owners.
The Mountain View City Council unanimously decided this week to temporarily close Castro Street between Evelyn Avenue and Mercy Street to traffic from June 22 through September. Staff recommended a "food court-style layout" where the city will provide tables and chairs for shared use by restaurants along Castro Street as well as participating restaurants on adjacent side streets.
Under the revised health orders from Santa Clara and San Mateo counties, restaurants must space outdoor tables 6 feet apart and limit the number of customers at a single table to no more than six individuals, all of whom must be from the same household. Restaurants can only serve alcohol with food, and bar areas must remain closed. Hand sanitizer or hand-washing stations should be made available in the outdoor dining area.
San Mateo County's health order further states that customers are required to wear face coverings except when sitting at dining tables. People from different households can use lounge areas and fire pits at the same time as long as they stay 6 feet apart. Restaurants must put their host stands at the entry of the outdoor dining area "so as to prohibit patrons from unnecessarily walking through the outdoor dining area." If a restaurant allows dogs, the animals must be on a leash and stay at least 6 feet from customers who are not members of the same household. Parents must ensure children 12 years and younger adhere to social distancing guidelines at all times.
In an updated FAQ, the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health said people dining outdoors at restaurants must wear a face covering while waiting in line, going to or from their table, using the restroom, ordering their meal and "at other times the restaurant may require." Children 6 years old and younger or anyone who has trouble breathing or is unable to remove a face covering without assistance is exempt from this.
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