‘A key role in Berkeley’s economy’: Berkeley restaurants open for outdoor dining

Outdoor dining
Jinsu Elhance/File

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After months of closure due to shelter-in-place orders, many Berkeley restaurants opened their doors for outdoor dining Friday.

Prior to the restaurants’ opening amid social distancing orders, the City Council created a policy to help restaurants operate in accordance with the regulations. Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for Mayor Jesse Arreguín, said the city has intended to introduce outdoor dining for some time now.

“Restaurants play a key role in Berkeley’s economy,” Elgstrand said in an email. “The last few weeks have given the City, especially the Office of Economic Development, time to work with local businesses in getting ready for the new changes.”

According to John Caner, CEO of the Downtown Berkeley Association, the city now has 27 restaurants open for dining. Because health restrictions have not allowed indoor seating yet, restaurants in Berkeley have started using sidewalk seating, parklets — which convert curbside parking spaces into seating — and courtyard seating, Caner noted.

Many restaurants in the city have had to make adjustments to the way they operate.

La Note has been operating for 23 years and has no clear understanding of when it will be able to resume service as it was before the shelter-in-place orders, according to owner Dorothée Mitrani.

“We are in the first stage of outdoor dining, so there’s a lot of adjustments. We aren’t there yet, and can’t go back to where we left off. Therefore, we are trying to find the best system,” Mitrani said. “The sad part is we normally have 45 employees, and we’re operating at around one-third of employees.”

Mitrani said the restaurant’s opening for outdoor dining has not necessarily increased business. The most challenging part of opening the restaurant has been to have customers understand how to get to the outdoor patio and to have them socially distance, according to Mitrani.

In order to solve this issue, La Note plans to implement a Yelp waitlist instead of a physical one at the restaurant, Mitrani added. The aim of the waitlist is to allow the restaurant to meet both revenue goals and health guidelines while keeping customer wait times low.

However, the future for reopening indoor dining remains uncertain for many restaurant owners, as Mitrani noted.

“A decision on when restaurants will be allowed to fully reopen depends on a variety of factors and ultimately decided by our Health Officer,” Elgstrand said in the email. “Research into the transmission of the virus indicates that it is easier to spread in an indoor environment where a lack of air circulation can allow the virus to be suspended in the air for longer.”

Though it will take time before restaurants and other indoor activities are able to operate at full capacity, Elgstrand said, indoor dining is listed as part of the next phase in reopening.

Contact Aryia Dattamajumdar at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @AryiaDm.