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Inside the 'new normal' | Why some San Diego County restaurants are reopening and others aren't

Some restaurants reopened Thursday for dine-in services with safety modifications. The restaurant experience may look a little different now in San Diego County.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — San Diego County restaurants were permitted to resume dine-in services and businesses could open for in-store shopping Thursday. The California Department of Public Health approved the county’s accelerated Stage 2 plan late Wednesday.

All businesses must complete a safety plan and make changes that allow customers to practice social distancing and protect employees.

“We've been preparing. We've been training. We've been moving around all of our tables to accommodate the social distancing and just completely cleaning our restaurants from head to toe, sanitizing everything,” said Daniela Bower, Senior Marketing Manager with Belmont Park Entertainment.

Bower estimates about half of the restaurant staff were brought back. All were trained in additional sanitation practices and will wear masks or face coverings at work. Customers are also asked to do the same, except while at their tables.

“Honestly, I'm even surprised myself everyday just talking to our staff because they are really, really onboard with coming back and we've been blessed to see them have our back,” said Bower.

Smaller restaurants are also opening up again or planning to do so in the near-future.

Bleu Boheme in Kensington is one of the first restaurants to reopen.

"Whooo hoooo," yelled a passerby. 

"Best sign I've seen in a long time," added another passerby.

Owner Ken Irvin is ready to finally welcome patrons and staff back for a safe dine-in experience.

"We've been doing a lot of improvements. We've been deep-cleaning knowing that one of these days, we are going to be back open and we are very grateful that we can reopen. For me, it has been many sleepless nights," said Irvin.

Irvin said he's lost abut 20% of his staff.

"Employees don't want to come back because of their unemployment checks and the $600 a week bonus they are getting," said Irvin.

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Irvin said noticeable differences will be in place, like six feet between tables and bar chairs.

Capacity will be at about 50% and there will be no parties larger than 10 people.

Staff will have their temperatures checked daily and will wear masks at all times, but customers don't have to wear a mask once you sit down.

GOING OUT TO EAT IN SAN DIEGO COUNTY: San Diego County increases daily testing numbers, stresses safety guidelines as restaurants reopen

"They're going to see that we wipe down the tables and chairs completely when they leave," added Irvin.

Reservations are recommended.

Giardino, a Lemon Grove Italian restaurant, is encouraging customers to make a reservation to avoid disappointment and to help maximize safety. It emailed customers that it would reopen Thursday shortly after the county received approval from CDPH. The restaurant received its first reservation three minutes later from one of its regulars.

“It makes me so happy that I can host him again and his family, and we've been getting reservations since then. Every time I get a phone call or I get an OpenTable reservation or e-mail reservation coming in, it just makes me feel alive again,” said owner Karina Kravalis.

Unlike some restaurants, Kravalis kept all of her employees working during the pandemic. Some were assigned to do deliveries, something the business didn’t previously offer. This allowed them to quickly train employees on the new state guidelines and reopen right away.

“It's been a very challenging time, like for most restaurants,” said Kravalis. “Everybody is really, really excited to get back to work.”

Some businesses decided against reopening right away to give them time to make additional modifications or train employees. Other restaurant owners still don't think it's safe. Most expect to reopen in the next few days to take advantage of Memorial Day crowds.

The holiday -which observes military service members that have died - is normally one of Belmont Park’s three busiest weekends of the year, but with rides and some shops still closed and a partial stay-at-home order still in effect, that is unlikely to be the case for 2020.

“It's really great to see that energy coming back and to be able to share the attributes and everything that we are [here in] San Diego,” said Bower.

Irvin said the prices remain the same and is hoping his restaurant's new delivery service will make up for lost revenue.

"Our waiters who don't have as many shifts will be our drivers," said Irvin.

On Thursday, Jeff Rossman, president of the San Diego branch of the California Restaurant Association, urged diners to be patient with businesses, who were doing everything they could with limited supplies, information and staff.

"We encourage people to take their time," he said, noting he would open his own two restaurants the first week of June. "Please don't come in if you're sick. Please be courteous, comply with signage and give yourselves extra time to comply. We've seen the long lines at casinos reopening, we don't want people queuing. Wait in your car if possible until your table is ready." 

You can learn more about the new countywide safety standards for going out to eat here:

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