Under the warm night sky, families, friends, and couples enjoy their night out as they eat with the dim lights spread out across the street. The environment is buzzing as people enjoy their outside diner experience while restaurants attempt to make a comeback from struggling COVID times.
Fourth Street is free of cars and after months of takeout and home cooking, outdoor dining is finally available.
Dine Under the Lights is an event set up by Downtown San Rafael to help businesses get back on their feet. With over 40 restaurants participating, ranging from Italian cuisine to Caribbean food, groups can enjoy delicious food while also supporting local businesses.
The event takes place Thursday and Friday nights between 5-9 pm but plans to end on October 30th. By that time, businesses should be able to get back on their feet without the need for extra help.
The event has specific health guidelines customers are asked to follow. The website asks to “Please: Wear masks, keep 6′ social distance, keep hands sanitized,” and that “alcohol must stay in the serving area.”
“It is really busy, but the problem is that people forget about social distancing,” a worker at Crepevine and San Rafael high school student, Renz Garado, said in an interview. “They don’t really care and it puts me in a much riskier spot.”
To prevent the spread of the virus, “screen shields are placed in the cashier area, and markings added for social distancing,” said Renz. Workers are also told to sanitize every table after each customer.
Jeff Scott, a recent Dine Under the Lights customer, said, “I thought the event was very well-organized. It prioritized safety. Of course, the food was great, and it didn’t feel any different than going before the quarantine.”
Large chains and well-funded restaurant groups have the resources to ride out a protracted shutdown, but the independent restaurants may not survive.
Restaurant analysts and operators estimate that 75 percent of the independent restaurants that have been closed to protect Americans from the coronavirus won’t ever reopen. The National Restaurant Association calculated this week that the entire industry would lose $225 billion in the coming three months and shed five to seven million employees.
California now remains as one of the few states to not officially reopen dining restaurants. Marin County, however, can take a step forward as the county enters tier 2 status this week in governor Gavin Newsom’s 3 step COVID plan. In light of the good news, Crepevine along with several other restaurants have “started letting 25% of the people in, with 5 tables inside,” said Renz.
One problem Dine Under the Lights has is the strict closing times. A worker at Double Rainbow, Angel Hernandez complains that, “if there are still customers sitting outside on the road, we have to move them to the sidewalk. The sidewalk gets really packed making it dangerous for both workers and people walking by.”
Could the plan of re-opening too soon backfire, or will the American people continue to follow the guidelines and begin the long-awaited counter-attack against COVID?