The Return of San Diego’s Restaurant Scene

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They’re Back!!! (Well Almost)

I have drilled down on all the talk of reductions in Covid-19 metrics. And because our beloved(?) governor is following the science (or maybe his attorneys’ or political advisers’ advice), over the last week, we’ve seen some positive signs that things might be getting back to ‘normal.’

I took a comprehensive tour of restaurants throughout the county this past weekend, and it certainly appears as though the restaurant business might have a chance to get back a semblance of normalcy in the near future. It was a beautiful weekend to tour some of the county’s best dining (all in the line of duty, of course), so I hit the road with my capable (and very cute) navigator to see what was happening.

What I found was very, very interesting. First, the pent-up demand for dining and liquid refreshment is literally bursting at the seams. Virtually every location we surveyed had such big crowds it was quite amazing. Clearly part of this could be a product of the first warm weather our area has had for several weeks. But more importantly, let’s face it, San Diego is a very lifestyle-oriented town; most of us live here for that very reason, and the food & beverage industry is the catalyst for that lifestyle.

Sitting out at the Piazza della Famiglia in Little Italy on Sunday, celebrating with a flight of Margaritas from Graze to celebrate National Margarita Day as the sun was setting and people-watching, that became very clear.

Courtesy Photo

Also clear in my travels is that is there are three schools of thought for restaurant owners; where they are located has at least a bit to do with it.

First, there are those few that simply have chosen to wait for full indoor dining to be allowed. For them, even if it is opened and restricted to 25% occupancy, because of the lack of consistency in State and local orders, and their own inability to create enough outdoor seating, it simply hasn’t made sense to open yet.

The second group is one that can, in fact, create an outdoor seating scenario that makes some sense. Most of these are in the Downtown, Gaslamp, and Little Italy. There is very little observable indoor seating in these areas, at least partly because San Diego’s new mayor, Todd Gloria, had decreed that strict enforcement would be had; not only restaurants would be fined, but their patrons as well, if caught disobeying the Covid-19 guidelines. This heavy-handed declaration, combined with the city resources to better enforce that, makes it just too risky for most places to do anything but outdoor dining.

That brings us to the third group: North County restaurants. These folks have been much more assertive in their responses to local authorities, many of which having also taken the legal strategy that they are being ‘civilly disobedient’ while litigation is being threatened or pursued. One key reason is that they are outside of city-proper. Being under county jurisdiction creates and interesting situation where local, small town and County authorities either don’t have the resources or the desire to regulate this. Consequently, many of the restaurants, particularly those in the coastal communities, have been providing indoor seating to their patrons for several days now.

All this will likely be subject to change in the next several days. My sources indicate that there are going to be more changes coming soon, probably by early March, including opening indoor dining at 25% capacity, which will really open the door to a scenario as close to ‘regular’ as possible.

Either way, the (potentially) fabulous news is that one of San Diego County’s finest resources, our restaurant and drinking establishments look to be on track for re-opening soon. Grand news, indeed!

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