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Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
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California’s experiment with outdoor dining and drinking will outlast the pandemic

Outdoor dining “parklets” and to-go cocktails feature in the pro-restaurant package signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday.

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) — Picnic benches, patios, plastic cups and pop-up bars: California’s affair with outdoor dining and drinking will continue long after the pandemic under legislation signed Friday by Governor Gavin Newsom.

“Eat your heart out, Paris,” Newsom joked with reporters.

Acknowledging the strain the state’s litany of emergency pandemic regulations has had on bars and restaurants over the last 18 months, Newsom inked new laws that will allow outdoor dining on city sidewalks and streets to continue along with to-go cocktails.

From a popular Jamaican restaurant in Oakland, Newsom credited the so-called “parklets” that have popped up around the state and helped eateries survive while providing badly needed gathering spots during the pandemic. He says the laws that go into effect immediately will help guide the industry’s ongoing financial recovery.

“We’re so desperate for those right now and we need to feel connected,” said the former mayor of San Francisco. “It’s really important that businesses like this not just survive but thrive.”

Highlighting the pro-restaurant package is a measure permitting outdoor dining and alcohol service to continue for one year after the governor’s pandemic emergency order is lifted.

Due to various rounds of indoor dining bans issued by Newsom and local officials, the state had eased off some of its alcohol rules and given the OK for restaurants to move outdoors. Local municipalities took things a step further by allowing businesses to build temporary dining areas on sidewalks and in some cases cover up city parking spots.

Proponents hope the grace period will allow the industry more time recoup, and spur local governments to restructure restrictive outdoor dining ordinances.

The bill’s author said the possibility of seeing his local dining scene collapse inspired Senate Bill 314.

“When this pandemic started and everything shut down, I was so deeply concerned that we were going to see a mass die-off of restaurants and bars,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco.

In addition, SB 314 amends the state’s alcohol licensing and permitting process to allow multiple alcohol manufacturers — such as a brewery and winery — to sell their products. The idea is to spur neighboring businesses to open up shared outdoor spaces in parking lots or other areas to create more room for customers to eat, drink and mingle in pop-up bars.

“We have a lot of vacant space now and we want our next generation of entrepreneurs to be able to create more pop-ups,” Wiener continued.

A separate bill will allow restaurants to continue with to-go cocktails which the state has also allowed during the pandemic.  

Under Senate Bill 389, restaurants will be cleared to sell two cocktails per “bona fide” takeout meal through 2026. Wine and beer are prohibited, and the bill cuts out third-party delivery services by requiring customers to pick up the drinks in person.

To-go cocktails have been a boon for the industry as according to the National Restaurant Association, businesses now offering to-go drinks are rehiring laid-off employees at a greater pace than those that haven’t taken advantage of the relaxed rules.

Nigel Jones, owner of Kingston 11 in Oakland, says his restaurant took a 70% hit in revenue at the outset of the pandemic due to the loss of alcohol sales. He applauded the new bills and reiterated the important role small eateries play in local economies.

“The ecosystem of the restaurant is pretty much the lifeline of the city,” Jones said, adding that his restaurant and others have served thousands of free meals to low-income residents.

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Categories / Business, Health, Regional

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