By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Dining room closures hit restaurants hard
close dine

For months local restaurants waited for the opportunity to open their doors and welcome guests back inside after the COVID-19 virus forced a widespread shutdown of the industry in California.

But a sharp rise in the number of cases being diagnosed across the state – and an equally sharp increase in the number of people requiring hospitalization because of the symptoms associated with the virus – prompted Governor Gavin Newsom to roll back some of those variances on Wednesday, starting with the restaurants that were barely scraping by.

When news that in-person dining was being temporarily suspended for a number of weeks while public health experts monitor the virus’ impact on the state’s healthcare system reached Strings Bar and Grill Manager Nickie Hipsher, she was already on her way to work to prepare for the dinner service.

At this point Hipsher said she doesn’t know when she’ll be able to seat people at tables inside of the restaurant once again.

“It was definitely something that was unexpected after all that we did to get ready to comply with the standards,” Hipsher said of the enhanced steps that restaurants had to take in order to offer dine-in service. “We had gotten everything done that we needed to and were doing everything that we were supposed to do – from sanitizing to making sure that our staff wore masks throughout their entire shift.

“Everybody thought that things were going back to normal.”

According to Hipsher, the reduced capacity that the restaurant had to observe had already put a damper on the number of shifts that servers could work upon returning back to in-person dining, and the schedule for returning staff was stretched so that everybody had a chance to get back to the job that they were doing before the virus arrived – even if that meant less shifts than before.

For employees that have children or rent or mortgage payments that they have to make, Hipsher said, there’s a general feeling of uncertainty about what is going to happen next and how they’re going to make ends meet in the meantime – especially since the Federal stipend for unemployment benefits is scheduled to run out at the end of this month.

The frustrations, she said, don’t end with just the staff, either.

“I manage our Facebook page and social media and a lot of our customers are disappointed with the development and all of the changes,” Hipsher said. “We want them to know that we did everything we could and it wasn’t our decision.”

Restaurants are still able to offer curbside service, patio service, and delivery through third-party, app-based vendors, but some restaurants – like Strings – have been reluctant to sign-up for those services because they take such a large chunk of the order — 30 percent in the case of Grubhub — serving as the middleman between the consumer and the restaurant.

And not all restaurants have had the same amount of time open to serve customers.

While some chain restaurants were able to open immediately upon the state’s decision to relax the restrictions last month, smaller family-owned restaurants like Chubby’s Diner had to wade through the dozens of pages of guidance that were issued to restaurants and find a way to recalibrate the interiors in order to meet the stringent demands – from barring counter service to severely limiting the number of available tables for customers to sit at while dining.

While Chubby’s did eventually reopen to serve customers inside of the 50s-themed diner, the shutdown will undoubtedly have an effect on the restaurant that was doing everything it could to get back to serving the loyal customers that have sworn by it through three moves, an economic downturn, and now a global pandemic.

To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.