From the Golden 1 Center to the heart of Midtown, Sacramento’s K Street was peppered with diners Saturday. For many, it was the first day on the town since bars and restaurants closed more than two months ago due to COVID-19.
“It’s really nice to be outside,” said Marlayna Thomas while sipping kombucha near the Saturday farmers’ market in Lavender Heights. The 31-year-old sat with a friend at a street-facing picnic table on the patio of LowBrau Bierhalle, though the restaurant wasn’t open for meal service.
“It’s Memorial Day weekend, can’t go to the beach, can’t go anywhere because I don’t feel comfortable being that in the mix, so this is a nice little happy medium,” Thomas said through a mask. “I’m not scared, not in open air. I wouldn’t want to be inside.”
Since Sacramento County okayed sit-down dining on Friday, restaurants are trying their best to avoid overcrowding, shared surfaces and other once-normal social activities that could speed the spread of coronavirus. Per state and county orders, they must post signs encouraging social distancing, require face coverings for employees who work near customers, increase sanitizing procedures and limit parties to people in the same household, among other changes.
Midtown restaurants had taken a range of precautions Saturday to reduce the chance of infection, from asking guests to use hand sanitizer upon entry to posting an employee outside for crowd control. At Ruhstaller, a bar near the arena, servers are using five-foot styrofoam pool noodles to push patrons back away from the counter.
Next door at Bailarin Cellars, Amitai Cohen has gone from pouring wine to helping with wholesale and pick-up orders. The business is already getting requests for private tastings for small groups. He says he’s ready to start serving customers again, with some modifications.
“It’s like anything else, you need to be careful,” Cohen said. “The economy has to run, and people are going to get too antsy in their house and they’re going to get out whether people tell them they can or can’t. I think if we start slow and have a limited capacity and start working our way up, it’ll get better.”
Other servers who asked to remain anonymous said they did not want to be serving dine-in customers again, but felt they didn’t have a choice.
Sacramento County Health Services Director Dr. Peter Beilenson said Sacramento’s case counts have been low enough to allow for gradual re-opening, and that the county has the testing and hospital capacity necessary to respond if moving to “Stage 2” leads to faster spread.
“This is a low-risk activity, but it’s not without risk,” he said of sit-down dining.
More than 120 Sacramento-area restaurants planned to open over the weekend, according to The Sacramento Bee. Law enforcement is not currently ensuring rules are followed, Beilenson said, but county code enforcement will assess restaurants that garner multiple complaints to 311.
Beilenson said the county is considering sending out “reopening navigators” to help small businesses navigate the new environment.
“We’re mostly having people go on gentleman and gentlewoman agreements to be able to do things appropriately,” he said. “The bottom line is be sociable, but be sensible.”
Red Roland, 24, shared lunch and a drink with a friend at Midtown’s Cantina Alley Saturday. He said they wore masks into the restaurant, but took them off when they saw most patrons weren’t wearing them.
“It seems to be like people are over it,” he said. “I would like to trust that people nowadays wouldn’t come out if they’re sick.”
Restaurant staff there were all wearing masks, and asking diners to wash their hands as they entered. Digital menus were available to patrons via QR code. Eliminating shared paper menus is on the list of changes recommended by Sacramento County and the state.
Manager Oscar Escobar said he was thrilled to see people in the open-air restaurant again, even though only half of the tables were in use. He’s applying with the city of Sacramento to add seating on the sidewalk.
“I’m really hopeful,” he said. “A lot of businesses, unfortunately, this pandemic forced them to go out of business. We are extremely blessed to be back in business.”
State Guidelines For Restaurants
The state issued recommendations earlier this month to help dine-in restaurants get ready to seat customers. Craft distilleries, breweries, bars, pubs and wineries can also re-open, but only if they also serve food.
Here are some of the state’s new guidelines for businesses:
- Face coverings are required for any employee who must be within six feet of customers.
- Staff should limit the number of patrons at a single table to a household unit or to customers who have asked to be seated together.
- Establishments must take ‘reasonable measures’ to remind the public to wear face coverings and practice social distancing
- Staff should no longer pre-set tables with dishware or shared items such as menus and condiment holders
- Staff should install partitions or barriers in areas where maintaining six feet of distance is difficult.
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