COVID-19 Restaurant Restrictions

Norm’s Kitchen closes indoor and outdoor dining due to the continued COVID-19 restaurant restrictions. With the hope of reopening soon, many restaurants are only able to do takeout orders until at least February when the stay-at-home order is lifted. “I think [in] April we’ll be able to do outdoor dining again,” says Norm’s Kitchen owner, Nancy Elsa.

Article & Photo By: Tara Elsa

This last year certainly had a significant impact on everyone, especially businesses and restaurants. California Governor Gavin Newsom released a new stay-at-home order in December of 2020 that was said to be in effect until January 8, 2021. With the stay-at-home order, since being extended, in California, restaurants have had to stop all indoor and outdoor dining again. The stay-at-home order also affects other businesses such as amusement parks, movie theaters, salons and offices (though there are some exceptions). 

Nancy Elsa, a local Sonoma County restaurant owner, shares the effects of the stay-at-home order on their business, Norm’s Kitchen. “We can only do take-out orders, so our business is probably 75% down from what it was before this all started last March,” says Elsa. Some businesses weren’t as prepared as others for being take-out only. Though, some businesses have found ways of working together to be more successful. Norm’s Kitchen and their neighboring business, Homerun Pizza, came together to share their outdoor seating areas since they are open at different times during the day.

While not all restaurants can work with other businesses to get more outdoor seating, some are finding other ways to work with the new restaurant restrictions. Elsa explains some of the tools restaurants, including Norm’s Kitchen, are using since customers can no longer eat at the restaurants. She says, “we started doing Doordash, [and] our phone has gotten a lot of use.” Even with masks and while properly following CDC guidelines, some people don’t want to go pickup food from restaurants, so food delivery services, such as Doordash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats, have become quite popular. Another useful tool for restaurants and other small businesses is social media (e.g. Instagram, Facebook or Twitter). This is a good place to put out general information about the business, any contact information, and directions to the business to increase visibility.

Getting new customers is often challenging during these times. Finding restaurants’ menus and figuring out what prices are correct online can pose to be challenging for some, especially older customers. “We’re trying to encourage people, when they come in, [to take] one of our menus,” says Elsa. Being consistent with giving customers the most accurate information is very important, especially during these times.

Among the many physical limitations and challenges for businesses while the stay-at-home order is in effect, there are also some mental challenges. “We have customers that used to come almost everyday and would sit outside, but they don’t come for to-go orders; because it’s the social part of sitting down at a restaurant and eating and being waited on,” explains Elsa. 

Looking ahead as the vaccines begin rolling out, there is lots of talk about when restaurants might be able to reopen outdoor—or even indoor—dining. But for now, we must wait until February when the stay-at-home order is lifted.

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