Tucked away on Rockaway Beach Avenue, despite being less than 200 feet from the sand, Breakers restaurant had not offered outdoor dining — until well into the pandemic. With a portion of street parking sectioned off, the small business was able to expand seating, allowing guests to enjoy their meals with a view of the Pacific.
“Outdoor dining was a lifeline for our business because our concept is to eat hot eggs and hot, crispy hash browns straight out of the kitchen,” said Robby Bancroft, the son in the father-son duo behind Breakers. “We don’t even want to think about what would have happened without it.”
COVID-19 has impacted the restaurant industry significantly. Enclaves of small mom-and-pop eateries, like those that proliferate in Half Moon Bay and Pacifica, found themselves the most hard hit. Last August, the California Restaurant Association cautioned that of the 90,000 restaurants operating in the state, at least 30 percent would close without substantial government assistance. Al fresco dining served as a lifeline for businesses losing revenue to stay at home mandates and indoor dining restrictions.
“We were closed for about nine months because of the pandemic and missed out on practically a year's worth of revenue that we have to make up for,” said Bancroft.
Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that restaurants and bars will be able to continue offering expanded outdoor dining and alcoholic takeout beverages through the end of the year. As California counties and cities reopen to pre-pandemic capacity limits, city leaders are exploring ways to extend emergency measures.
“We are able to keep our existing program in place and we intend to do that,” said Tina Wehrmeister, planning director and assistant city manager for Pacifica. “Restaurants that currently have a license for outdoor activities do not need to come back and re-permit.”
The city of Half Moon Bay will adopt a similar approach.
“The city will continue to allow continuation of outdoor activities initially permitted during pandemic, outdoor dining in spaces like parking lots and sidewalks, as long as the establishments have obtained proper permitting from us and adhere to ADA accessibility” said Joe Butcher, community preservation specialist for Half Moon Bay. Meanwhile, existing permits have been extended.
Half Moon Bay and Pacifica are also interested in more permanent plans.
“We are bringing an item to council in August in order to get their direction on the full scope of work for an ordinance update,” said Wehrmeister.
Discussions will explore topics like whether there will be design guidelines associated with outdoor seating arrangements and how permanent structures may impact parking.
Half Moon Bay is currently evaluating the possibility of permitting longer term parklets and sidewalk dining, according to Butcher.
Though the conditions of the pandemic have improved, some diners are still getting used to the idea of eating inside.
“Especially when the weather is really nice, I have noticed that people prefer outdoor dining,” said Bancroft.
With many restaurants still suffering, expanded seating will aid in their recovery.
“It gives us more of a chance to have butts in seats,” said Bancroft. “The biggest part of getting restaurants back on their feet is having people come in and eat.”
“Keep your dollar local,” he urges.