In Escondido, outdoor dining expansion a boost for restaurateurs as virus surges

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ESCONDIDO, Calif. – Some San Diego-area restaurants are reporting revenues down at least 25% amid local shutdowns related to the pandemic, but outdoor dining options are boosting bottom lines in places like Escondido, local restaurateurs say.

At Burger Bench in Escondido, the restaurant now is up to roughly 70 outdoor seats, nearly four times as many as they had this time last year. The increase comes as Escondido city officials — like other municipalities in the region — have had to get creative after San Diego County limited restaurants to only outdoor dining in July following a surge of local COVID-19 cases.

In Escondido’s case, officials closed down a lane of traffic on a portion of Grand Avenue to allow tables to be moved into the street and maximize available dining space for potential customers.

“It’s a lot to manage compared to what it was before,” said Aly Jeffrey, manager at Burger Bench. “There’s a lot of stuff we’ve had to take from inside and put out here to accommodate our guests.”

Discussions to increase outdoor dining options in the county have ongoing for several months as the pandemic has dragged on into the summer, forcing numerous adjustments for most businesses, places of worship, schools and other facets of daily life. Other than Escondido, municipalities to implement new outdoor dining options include San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy as well as Chula Vista, Coronado and Encinitas, among others.

To make it work in Esconidido, the Downtown Business Associated worked with the city to streamline the permitting process in addition to committing $10,000 to provide restaurants shade coverings, tables and chairs.

The city also provided temporary barriers along Grand Avenue to protect customers.

Restaurateurs said they were losing roughly half of their overall business when only carryout was allowed. Since the city added the additional lane for tables, revenues have bumped up to about 75% of what they otherwise would have been.

Some still wonder if the move will be enough to keep restaurants open for the long haul, a verdict which likely remains to be seen. But at Burger Bench, it’s been enough so far to keep business flowing — and it’s keeping workers employed, too.

“For me, this is paying my bills and I’m thankful for this,” Jeffrey said.

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