Why some South Bay restaurants won’t be welcoming patrons back inside

Some restaurants in the South Bay are opting not to welcome patrons back inside, despite public health orders allowing them to do so. Some owners said the county rules make it difficult to operate.

Santa Clara County permitted indoor dining at 25 percent capacity. Eric Neilsen, who owns SP2 Communal and 55 South in downtown San Jose, is keeping his restaurants doors shut to patrons.

“The rules are really strict and it hampers the experience that a guest can enjoy when they are eating,” said Neilsen.

Among Santa Clara County’s indoor dining requirements include tables spaced at least 10 feet apart, no more than six people at a table and a customer from each party must provide their name, number and email address.  Also TV use is not allowed, only low volume background music.

“I just don't understand why having a screen on,” asid Neilsen. “I don't understand how that spreads the risk of Covid.”

Santa Clara County’s Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody said the goal is to keep restaurants fairly quiet and to draw less people indoors.

“Anytime there’s background music that’s louder where people have to talk over the music that increases the likelihood that an infectious person would create aerosols or droplets,” said Dr. Cody.

“To me, this is totally a stretch,” said San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa.

Neighboring San Mateo County doesn't require customer information and televisions and loud music are permitted. Canepa said the fundamental difference is San Mateo County’s health officer believes spread occurs more so at social gatherings not at restaurants.

Over at Chacho’s in San Jose, adhering to the new indoor dining rules has been a struggle. Many owners said it’s more comfortable for patrons and less work for staff to keep business outside.

“We don't feel comfortable enough asking clients their full information,” said Yessica Huijon of Chacho’s. “Some of them get upset and just leave unfortunately.”

Some owners are able to have enough outdoor seating to sustain their business, thanks to the City of San Jose’s Al Fresco program, but owners worry about others who don't have outdoor space.