The State of California recently announced new guidance on allowing businesses to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic, which means most restaurants in San Diego County can begin serving customers indoors beginning this week after being ordered to shut down indoor operations in July.

But at least for now, only one out of every four chairs can be filled by a customer.

Most restaurants in San Diego County may operate at 25 percent of capacity, along with other new rules, said licensing and permitting expert Marco Polo Cortes. Public health authorities intend to gradually reopen restaurants to full capacity as the COVID-19 crisis abates.

Allowing indoor dining – even with reduced capacity – is a step in the right direction, said Cortes. But will it be in time to save restaurants teetering on the edge of closing?

“We are experiencing an unprecedented time of challenges for restaurant owners who are navigating California’s newest public health orders order to keep their doors open,” said Cortes, owner of Marco Polo Permits. “Business owners worry that operating at 25% capacity won’t pay the bills – but they are doing their best to abide by the new rules as they fight to survive day-by-day.”

The California Restaurant Association reported that thousands of restaurants have already closed permanently and those going out of business could reach as high as 30% of California restaurants. More than two-thirds of restaurant workers in the state – as many as 1 million people – have been laid off or furloughed since the pandemic begin in March, according to the California Restaurant Association.

The new rules for reduced capacity are intended to allow more space between each table, providing airflow and less risk of COVID-19 transmission. Masks and facial coverings, hand-washing and distancing requirements are still required. The state’s new reopening framework says that those percentages were determined by careful study of the risks associated with different types of venues.

Industry groups are pushing back on some of the new rules. The California Restaurant Association has said that restaurants cannot sustain themselves or their employees while operating under such strict capacity limits, and is calling for a special session of the State Legislature to specifically address the statewide restaurant crisis.

Some other public health orders are also controversial – including one that all businesses now reopening keep logs with names and phone numbers of everyone they serve to make it easier to track people down quickly if a COVID-19 outbreak is detected.

This new rule is opposed by an industry group. “We believe this requirement is not legal and will create a conflict-unsafe atmosphere for business employees,” said Stephen A. Zolezzi, President/CEO of the Food & Beverage Association of San Diego, in an email to members.

Marco Polo Permits will continue to monitor public health guidance, while helping its restaurant clients navigate the rules and advocating for common-sense solutions to support businesses in this difficult time.