Bay Area restaurants weather coronavirus outbreak, some with devastating losses

CLICK HERE if you are having a problem viewing the photos on a mobile device

A San Francisco fast-casual eatery with Michelin cred was forced to close, and business at a swanky SoMA restaurant is down 70 percent. But for one popular chain of gourmet burger joints, it’s business as usual in Marin, Palo Alto and Walnut Creek.

The coronavirus outbreak — declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on Wednesday — is affecting Bay Area restaurants in dramatically different ways. The hardest-hit businesses are in city centers, like San Francisco, where large venue closures and event cancellations have caused dining and catering to plummet by as much as 70 percent, the worst drop since just after 9/11.

Neighborhood and 50-seat-or-fewer restaurants that meet the social distancing recommendations put forth by the counties of San Francisco, Santa Clara and Contra Costa are faring slightly better with drops closer to 25 to 50 percent, and many are relying on delivery to make ends meet. Overall, it’s a moving target and one that many in the industry are addressing day by day, be it by reducing staff or implementing stringent cleaning practices to encourage patronage.

On Friday, data released by OpenTable found that restaurant reservations on their platform in San Francisco were down 51 percent comparing March 12, 2019 with Mar 12, 2020 — the largest decline of any city included in their dataset other than New York City and Seattle.

“The problem is, this is something we’ve never seen before and we just don’t know what’s going to happen,” says Laurie Thomas, acting director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, which represents approximately 800 restaurants, mostly in San Francisco, as well as chains with locations across the Bay Area. The group recently increased cleaning requirements — including antiseptic wipe-downs on both sides of all doors and handles, multiple times daily — and is asking members to refrain from hugging, high-fiving or even air-kissing customers.

As of Monday, Thomas’ restaurants — Rose’s Café and Terzo, both in the Marina/Cow Hollow area — are seeing a 30 percent drop; she has taken measures to offset that, like reducing alcohol buys. But, she says, larger restaurants that rely on downtown conferences or banquet events are suffering much more. On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors introduced an emergency measure to help, including an ordinance to create small business rent stabilization loans and legislation to supplement income for some employees.

Bruce Hill, owner of Zero Zero in SoMA, is hoping for some kind of economic relief. In the past weeks, business at his swanky Cal-Ital restaurant and bar has been down a devastating 70 to 80 percent. “I’m freaked out,” says Hill, who has been sending staff home early when the restaurant is quiet. He also closed for lunch on Wednesday to deep-clean the restaurant and meet with staff to boost morale. “All this week and part of last week we have not even opened our (95-seat) mezzanine.” Capacity has been contained to the 45 seats downstairs.

53f2e SJM L CORONA 0312 9 Bay Area restaurants weather coronavirus outbreak, some with devastating losses
Customers enjoy appetizers and drinks at the bar at Zero Zero on Wednesday, March 11, 2020. Zero Zero is one of several restaurants whose business has plummeted in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. (Ray Chavez/Bay Area News Group) 

Last week, Hill jumped on Caviar to offer delivery of Zero Zero’s salads, pasta and wood-fired pizzas for the first time. “The revenue might just soften the blow a little bit,” he says. And then there’s another issue: Like many restaurants, Zero Zero relies on imported Italian goods, including flour and tomato sauce. “None of that stuff is leaving Italy right now,” he says. “It’s just another ripple in this whole thing.”

In the South Bay and on the Peninsula, where commuters are increasingly working from and dining close to home, restaurateurs are hoping stringent cleaning policies and other measures will encourage customers to keep coming in. The Plumed Horse in Saratoga has implemented a “black glove policy” between its Michelin-starred courses and cut its dining room capacity in half, expanding the “social distance” between tables in an effort to keep high-tech spenders coming in.

On Thursday, Cin-Cin, a Los Gatos wine bar, took similar measures, not only reducing the seating capacity of its restaurant but also offering discounts on the DoorDash app so people who are stuck at home can enjoy their food and “have some semblance of normalcy during these trying times,” they said in an email.

And in the East Bay, Bob and Maggie Klein of Oakland’s Oliveto have implemented several strategies to help customers of the Rockridge restaurant feel safe: A one-meter space between tables, hand-sanitizing stations throughout the dining room and single-use menus.

“The Covid-19 virus crisis presents by far the greatest challenge we’ve ever come against, and we are dealing with it head on,” the owners said via e-mail.

At Gott’s Roadside, which operates gourmet burger joints in Walnut Creek as well as Palo Alto, Marin, St. Helena and San Francisco, they’ve reinforced existing cleaning and food safety protocols, mandated employee handwashing every 20 minutes and disinfected high-traffic areas of the restaurant throughout the day.

“It makes people feel safe,” said Gott’s president Chris Walker. “We have seen some sales decreases, but in suburban and rural markets I would say things are good. As corporations implement work-from-home mandates, people are eating around where they live, which is in the suburbs.”

Even at the iconic Ferry Building on the Embarcadero, where fine-dining restaurants are hurting, Gott’s sales are actually up. “We’re in the comfort food business,” Walker says. “And I think people are taking advantage of the summer-like weather and wanting to gather as a community in a high anxiety time.” Another sign of the times? The highest beer and wine sales since the Ferry Building restaurant opened in 2004.

And then there are restaurants for whom the coronavirus outbreak is the final straw in a slow first quarter. AL’s Deli, a fast-casual Israeli eatery from Aaron London of San Francisco’s Michelin-starred AL’s Place, opened with a splash last summer in the Mission District. But, as London first told Eater SF, the concept didn’t catch on as he had hoped. Dwindling corporate catering business in the past few weeks — 100 percent of orders for the past week were canceled — delivered the final blow. AL’s Deli closed March 7.

“A lot of small restaurants don’t have the cushion a large corporation has,” London says. “A couple of slow nights makes a difference. A couple of slow weeks, and I think it’s very uncertain what’s going to happen to a lot of the small restaurants in the city.”

Article source:

This entry was posted in SF Bay Area News and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.