Encinitas Considers Opening Sidewalks, Streets Up for Outside Dining

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The Encinitas City Council on Wednesday agreed to come up with a plan to expand dining areas outside restaurants, possibly pushing tables and chairs out into sidewalks, streets or parking lots.

One version even calls for dining setups in the lanes of Highway 101.

"If they are going to take up some of the 101, that is going to be a big issue,” Susanna Medina said. “They already have competition with the cyclists, drivers."

San Diego County was approved to advance in Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, which allows restaurants to open, but only at limited capacity to allow for social distancing. That’s why the City Council is cobbling together new operating rules for service to spread beyond four walls.

"I would feel safe. You're outside,” Encinitas resident Walter Decourt said. “The spread of the virus, I would think, would be very minimal."

Expanding dining service areas beyond the walls of restaurants will help make up for losses due to restricted capacity.

Doug Sondomicz, part owner of the Encinitas Fish Shop, says his dining space is too small to make reopening at reduced capacity worth it, so he hopes the sidewalk or street can provide him more space. He also thinks outside dining will be good for the community at large. 

 “People are so itching to get outside, go to their favorite restaurants and eat healthy,” said Sondomicz.

Max Helmuth manages the Encinitas Ale House down the street where business dropped 50 % since the stay-at-home order.

“People are going to feel more comfortable,” Helmuth said about outside dining. “I think right now as a restaurant and bar owner the number one thing I can do is make people feel more comfortable."

"Its beautiful outside, so why not be outside,” he added.

Expanding service outside, while good for business, is even better for employees whose unemployment benefits can't last forever.

"We're running things as thin as possible. We don't know what's going to happen,” Sondomicz said. “As we get busier we'll start hiring more and hiring more."

Encinitas city staffers will consult with the Coastal Commission and local business community to come up with a strategy to be brought back to the City Council. Council members did not give staffers a deadline to present recommendations, but did give the go ahead for an earnest effort to come up with a plan.

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