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South Bay restaurants ponder dine-in options as COVID-19 restrictions ease

At some point during “Phase 2” of the statewide road to reopening businesses, restaurants should be allowed to have guests dine in again. But not everyone is totally bullish about dipping their toes in the murky waters of post-pandemic restoration.

Dean DeVincenzi, who owns Double D’s and Forbes Mill in Los Gatos, says, “I have no idea what to expect other than it will definitely not be back to where it was. I would think 50 percent would be an ‘at best’ scenario in terms of dining occupancy. Things are doing OK with takeout at both restaurants for now.”

Andrew Welch at ASA Los Gatos says he’s ready for any challenge. “The night before the lockdown order, we were already thinking, ‘What does this look like for us going forward?’ We knew we needed to do takeout, and began offering it literally the next day.

“Over the last eight weeks, we’ve learned a lot,” Welch adds. “We’ve figured out the best takeout containers, what people want in terms of grocery items, and although our income is about a third of what it was pre-shutdown, at least we are still able to keep some of our hard-working staff employed.”

Welch says he’s been in the restaurant business pretty much his entire life and learned everything from the ground up. He knows it’s all about keeping people happy.

“We can’t wait to welcome our guests back for in-house dining,” he adds, “but it will require some major changes, (as) 50 percent occupancy presents a real financial hardship, plus having servers in masks—what kind of dining experience is that? We’re rethinking everything, including the possibility of using attractive disposable plates and utensils, to avoid exposing our dishwashing staff. So many angles to consider!”

GM Obadiah Ostergard of Left Bank, LB Steak and Meso Mediterannean on Santana Row, says he’s on “pins and needles” regarding timing. Meanwhile, takeout is going OK, but is not sustainable for very long.

“We are still losing money doing it, but it keeps people working and allows us to do great things like our partnership with Bill Wilson Center and providing meals for frontline workers,” Ostergard says.

Although he says 50 percent occupancy would not be economically feasible, it’s a full court press to get everything ready. He wants to add more outdoor seating, and is pushing the landlord to allow it.

Asked about time limits on tables to allow for more turnovers, Ostergard says, “I am in favor of a positive guest experience in the most difficult of times. If the demand is there, I am sure we could find something that would work for the guest enjoyment and make business sense.”

Mike and Serena Williams of Southern Kitchen in Los Gatos will sacrifice some indoor tables in favor of a custom outdoor seating arrangement by Terra Amico. Says Serena, “The custom station allows more space for sidewalk clearance than our current round tables and gives guests more options to enjoy an outdoor dining experience.”

She also admits the lockdown has added greatly to her appreciation of wine.

Stephen Shelton of the Lexington House sees opportunities where others see challenges. He’s planning to add outdoor seating anywhere he can within guidelines. Indoors, dining tables will be mostly for parties of four or more.

“Bar seating is an interesting one,” Shelton says. “Lucky—or not—for us, our ‘bar’ is part of the restaurant for now, until we expand. We will just put barstools at bar spaced six feet apart.

“For places that have a real bar, it will require serious space management, with no ‘standing room’ allowed. That will be interesting to monitor, to say the least.”

As for takeout, he expects to continue promoting that, and hopes the state will continue allowing hard alcohol to go with food purchases.

“That has done well for us, and guests love it,” Shelton says.

He is installing a new filtered air system to promote guest safety, and says staff will wear masks if required.

Whether he agrees with them personally, Shelton accepts state protocols designed to flatten the COVID-19 curve.

“It’s about protecting our community and those at a higher risk than myself,” he says. “We are privileged to be part of the community and society, and with that comes responsibilities. Lead and be part of a larger solution, or step aside and let someone else do it. “


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Author: Laura Ness, Correspondent

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