With San Francisco in orange tier, businesses of all stripes have a lot more freedom to resume operations with some semblance of normalcy. But should they? That question is especially challenging for restaurants, which can now open for indoor dining at 50 percent capacity, and are also known to be some of the riskiest places for COVID-19 transmission. Unsurprisingly, restaurant owners, workers, and diners have as many opinions on the matter as there have been COVID-19 guidelines.
In the Inner Sunset, one business is playing it on the safe side. Misghina Manna, the owner of New Eritrea Restaurant, which doesn’t have a swanky parklet, has not opened up indoor dining yet. He may reopen the restaurant next week, but he wants to make sure everyone on staff is vaccinated first.
“It’s a tough question,” Manna says. “The virus is still out there. We are in-between because we’ve been out of business for a year but very cautious about the virus.”
For Max Houston, manager of Padrecito in Cole Valley, the previous indoor dining guidelines work just fine. “We are running indoor dining at 25 percent. We’re feeling pretty good about it,” Houston says. “The main issue is getting customers to return.”
But for restaurant and service industry workers, the expansion of indoor dining only adds to the list of health concerns they’ve accumulated over the past year.
“It’s not great,” says Lena Thaler. A former Tartine Bakery employee, and service employee of seven years, she isn’t stoked on the prospect of indoor dining. Thaler worked as an ice cream scooper and front-of-house restaurant server, and now works as a teacher and health educator. Her tenure at Tartine ended due to the pandemic in March of 2020.
“Vaccines help to add a basic layer of security, but indoor dining creates so many more situations for diners to be careless towards the health and wellness of service folks,” Thaler continues. “Ventilation, apathy for mask wearing and bad tippers are just a few of my concerns.”
Those concerns are echoed by some public health experts. “No one should be dining indoors, vaccinated or not, right now,” UC Berkeley infectious disease expert John Swartzberg told the Chronicle last week. “Spending a prolonged period of time indoors with a bunch of strangers with everyone talking loudly is a perfect way to spread this virus.”
Health concerns aside, some restaurant patrons favor outdoor dining for other reasons. “I enjoy how outdoor dining has brought a greater sense of community on the sidewalk,” says Western Addition resident Alex Kinoshita. City and state officials seem to agree, as they push for new laws that would make outdoor dining permanent.
The benefits, Kinoshita says, go beyond enjoying a restaurant meal al fresco. “As a young woman walking alone, sometimes outdoor dining makes me feel safer.”