North Bay restaurants turning to tents for outdoor dining for upcoming COVID-19 winter

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ByWayne Freedman KGO logo
Saturday, October 31, 2020
Restaurants turn to outdoor dining tents with winter looming
Restaurants in the North Bay have begun constructing large outside event tents to accommodate outdoor dining with the winter of COVID-19 incoming.

SAN ANSELMO, Calif. (KGO) -- Restaurants in the North Bay have begun preparing for the COVID-19 pandemic winter by purchasing commercial tents for outdoor dining.

Marin County is currently limiting indoor dining to 50 percent capacity, which has altered the survival course for many eateries in 2020.

Now, restaurateurs are facing dual threats of rainy weather and a rampant virus, which may cripple sales and force closures.

The challenges have forced these small business owners to get creative with their outdoor space.

RELATED: Pleasanton residents return to restaurants as county allows indoor dining under new COVID-19 restrictions

As industry insiders know, successful restaurant management depends on advance planning, and not only about food.

At Bistro Viz in San Anselmo Friday morning, the progress of a duck confit consumed much of head chef's Soo Young Kim's attention.

However, the chef says preparing for the imminent winter is not on the back burner.

"Winter is coming, rain is coming, cold is coming," Kim says, "COVID is not going away."

Moreover, Soo's life partner Eric Lichtblau has confessed that he's not comfortable with indoor dining amid a worsening pandemic.

RELATED: San Francisco now allows indoor dining, but is it safe? Here's what experts say

"We're in our 50's," Lichtblau explains, "so we don't want to be inside breathing the same are that 40 people are exhaling."

Those sentiments, and the couple's survival instincts, led them to construct a large green tent above the restaurant's patio.

"My other option was to close," says Kim, "but my guys cannot be out of work, so we decided to go for it."

"We need to be able to serve customers who want to eat outside," adds Lichtbaum, "the project will cost less than $15,000 and it will pay for itself."

While the effort to stay open is valiant, patrons may question the COVID safety of dining in tents outside.

RELATED: San Francisco's outdoor dining program 'shared spaces' set to expire Dec. 31

ABC7 News found that state law requires tented restaurant spaces to not have more than one solid wall from floor to ceiling, and air must be able to flow through.

Bistro Viz does meet that legal standard.

With the tent and a sidewalk awning, the restaurant can serve 24 people at one sitting.

That's about half their normal capacity, a proverbial shelter for their business in uncertain times.

"I think as with everything else," Soo says, "I am operating on a what-will-happen presumption."

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