Local restaurants preach caution as county might allow indoor dining

Olivia Treynor/Town Crier
Downtown restaurants are in the process of installing parklets to help with outdoor dining space, and owners are being cautious if the county were to allow indoor dining.

Santa Clara County announced last week that when it moves into the orange, or “moderate,” tier in the state’s new COVID-19 tier system for counties, restaurants can open indoors and indoor gatherings will be allowed.

The earliest the county can move ahead from the red, or “substantial,” tier is next Tuesday. This would mean that the county would anticipate remaining below 3.9 daily new cases per day, per 100,000 residents. The county currently is at an adjusted case rate of 3.5 new daily cases, putting it in the “moderate” tier. Its 1.8% positivity rate is well into the “moderate” tier.

Although more indoor operations will be allowed if the county moves ahead, there are still additional countywide restrictions. Indoor gatherings will be limited to 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Indoor dining will be permitted up to 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 200 people.

“We haven’t always been so aligned with our neighbors and even with the state health system,” said Dave Cortese, president of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in a press conference. “Today is a huge leap forward in that regard, which I think creates clarity, certainty and some level of good simplicity for those who are doing their best to follow the rules.”

County public health officer Dr. Sara Cody called a move into the next tier a “very significant easing of restrictions,” and warned that just because the county might soon open up more doesn’t mean residents should let down their guard.

“We can get into trouble very fast,” Cody said. “It takes a very long time to get ourselves out of trouble, so we must continue to be cautious.”

Exercising caution

Of the local restaurants the Town Crier reached out to following the county’s announcement last week, a majority were cautious about moving into an indoor dining phase too quickly, and several said they would hold off on initiating a plan for indoor dining until they had further guidance and instruction from the county.

While some indoor dining is allowed by the state for counties in the “substantial” tier, Santa Clara County did not permit its restaurants to open indoors. County officials appear to be comfortable taking that step when it reaches the next tier.

The Post’s owner, Vickie Breslin, said she would like to keep indoor capacity to 24 people (five or six tables) maximum in her 5,000-square foot restaurant, regardless of county directives.

“If 25% gives me 60 people, no way am I going to right away be, like, ‘Let’s have 60 people inside,’” she said.

Breslin and owners of other downtown restaurants have recently set up parklets outside their businesses to help with outdoor dining. Los Altos recently ended its Open Streets program, which closed downtown streets on weekends to allow for more pedestrian space and room for outdoor dining. But with the cooler weather, the city may have to consider alternative options if rain or frigid conditions keep patrons from dining outside, with the COVID-19 pandemic causing safety concerns.

Roxanne Mein, director of catering at LuLu’s Mexican Food on Main Street, plans to set up two or three tables inside her restaurant, at an appropriate distance from the ordering line.

“We’re excited for it,” Mein said. “We want to do it safely, too. As things cool down, we have the opportunity to have something inside, which would be great with the cooler weather.”

In an email to the Town Crier, Anthony Carnesecca, the city’s economic development coordinator, said he is working to educate restaurant owners and operators about when the county could potentially allow indoor dining.

“At this point in time, I am waiting for Santa Clara County industry-specific directives for indoor dining similar to what we have now for outdoor dining and personal care services,” he said. “Once we have that and a clear date on when indoor dining will be allowed, I will distribute that information to the business community through email, community organizations, our website and social media.”

Lars Smith, co-owner of State of Mind Public House and Pizzeria, said in a text message that he will discuss the possibility of indoor dining with ownership and staff, as well as gauge the comfort level.

“Our safety and the safety of our community is more important than profit,” he said.

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