When Sacramento restaurants got the official go-ahead to reopen for dine-in last Friday, more than 100 quickly threw open their doors for the Memorial Day weekend. But not everyone was eager to jump back into the fray. In fact, quite a few restaurateurs are holding back, with many citing safety, financial and logistical reasons.
For some, not reopening was a no-brainer. With a nine-seat dining room, downtown’s tiny Pizza Supreme Being would have to shrink its number of allowable diners to just two or three in order to comply with state guidelines for social distancing, according to owner Ben Roberts. “With such a small dining room, it’s not possible to keep six feet between employees and guests,” he explained. Installing Plexiglas partitions to separate diners (one proposed solution for social distancing) was another no-go, he said. “It would be like dining in a voting booth.”
Roberts also expressed concerns about safety while there’s still no vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19. “I’m not comfortable putting myself and my crew at risk,” he said. A state-published booklet with 12 pages of guidance for restaurants on safely operating during the pandemic requires, among other things, temperature checks for employees at the beginning of each shift and the screening of diners for symptoms upon arrival. “Those guidelines are pretty intense,” Roberts said. “I don’t want one of my employees standing at a door and taking temperatures.” For now, he said, he’ll stick with the plan he instituted at the beginning of the shutdown, selling just 45 pizzas a day for curbside pickup.
De Vere’s Irish Pub explained its decision to remain closed for dine-in with a note to customers on its Facebook page that read: “It’s our feeling that reopening to the public at this present moment is not in the best interest of our community or our families.” According to Simon de Vere White, who owns the restaurant with his brother, Henry, it was a family decision to hold off on reopening. “We want to reopen,” he said. “But right now, the best decision for us, our staff and the community is to wait a little bit longer.” Noting that “there are still too many unknowns about this virus,” the pub (with locations downtown and in Davis) said on Facebook that it would “monitor the situation, learn from others’ successes and failures, and let the health and safety of our staff drive our decision making.”
Oliver Ridgeway, owner of downtown’s Camden Spit & Larder, is also taking a wait-and-see approach before returning to business as usual. An upscale British brasserie that was a popular pre-shutdown watering hole for local lawyers and lobbyists, the restaurant now offers takeout and prepares meal boxes for two philanthropic food-relief programs, Family Meal Sacramento and Great Plates Delivered. It was a big switch for an expense-account restaurant, but Ridgeway is in no hurry to shake things up again. “Transitioning back to a restaurant will take time,” he said, noting that he’ll have to hire new staff. (Some of his employees have left the state.) He also pointed to the state guidelines, saying “there are a lot of procedures we have to follow.” And of course, there’s the question of demand: Will customers return during the pandemic?
For now, Ridgeway said he’s just trying to navigate the new normal. “I want to see what happens around town. There’s a lot of stuff to figure out. I want to do it right.” In the meantime, he’s looking at reopening the restaurant’s patio and is working on spreading out seating and adding plantings. But like many in the industry, he’s rethinking his entire way of doing business. “We have to revisit our business model,” he said. “We may change a little bit.”