SAN FRANCISCO (AP/CBS13) — There’s one pandemic change that Californians are sure to toast: The to-go cocktail.
On Thursday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that restaurants may continue to sell takeout alcohol and keep expanded outdoor dining through the end of 2021. Restaurants turned to takeout and outdoor dining during the past year as coronavirus restrictions severely limited indoor service.READ MORE: Record-Breaking Temperatures Posted Around Sacramento Region Friday
“I’m very excited about this and I think this is a good thing for our economic recovery. It’s also a good thing for our public health because what occurs is more people will still be outside,” Newsom, a Democrat, said during a news conference outside Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco.
Locally, anticipation from business in downtown Sacramento is building as the return to pre-pandemic revenues looms on the horizon. With the return of live events and conventions, Brenda Kirian is already seeing an increase in the number of people getting out of their homes and checking into a room at the Hyatt Regency.
“[It’s] starting to ramp up a little bit,” said Kirian, director of sales and marketing with Hyatt Regency Sacramento.
The extensions come as California plans to lift most business restrictions and social distancing rules on June 15, allowing restaurants to resume indoor service at full capacity as they did pre-pandemic. Even so, maintaining outdoor dining could help the state control virus spread, Newsom said.
The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control relaxed regulations in March 2020 to let restaurants sell alcohol to go, right around the time Newsom imposed the nation’s first statewide stay-at-home order, shuttering restaurants for in-person dining. Since then, restaurants have been allowed to sell pre-packaged alcohol like bottles of beer and wine as well as pre-mixed cocktails ordered with food.READ MORE: Sacramento Mayor Joins Group Pushing For Reparations For Black Communities As Country Celebrates Juneteenth As Federal Holiday
In May, as the state began allowing outdoor service to resume, the department made it easier for restaurants to expand outdoor dining by offering temporary catering authorizations. That allowed restaurants to continue to sell alcohol in off-premises locations like sidewalks and adjacent parking lots where many set up tables. The department has issued more than 10,000 of those licenses, said Newsom spokeswoman Amelia Matier.
Local governments also play a big role in determining how restaurants operate outdoor dining, and Newsom sent officials a letter Thursday urging them to continue allowing outdoor dining in places such as sidewalks and parking lots that aren’t zoned for eating.
In San Francisco, “parklets” that expand open-air dining onto streets and roadways have popped up all over the city. Mayor London Breed, who joined Newsom, called outdoor dining “the one bright light we had” during the pandemic. She’s now fighting with the city’s board of supervisors over a permanent expansion of such outdoor services.
“It’s bringing life to the city like never before,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, they’re here to stay.”
Lawmakers could permanently extend the allowance of to-go cocktails through a bill by state Sen. Bill Dodd, a Napa Democrat. He said his proposal would boost income for struggling restaurants and give customers greater choice.
Newsom, who owns wineries and restaurants, praised the industry for its resilience and innovation during the pandemic. But restaurants struggled amid the stop-and-start restrictions that often varied by county. Even now, counties with the lowest virus transmission rates can only allow indoor dining at 75% capacity if all patrons are fully vaccinated. Nearly a third of California restaurants permanently closed during the pandemic, the California Restaurant Association told lawmakers last month.MORE NEWS: 'The Heat Is Unbearable': Friday Night Out Brings Sacramento Crowds Inside To Beat The Heat
All capacity restrictions will lift June 15, but now employers say they’re struggling to find workers. As of May, restaurant employment was down by a quarter from pre-pandemic levels.