Covid-19

‘Makes a Big Difference': San Diego Restaurant Owners Welcome Less-Restrictive Orange Tier

San Diego County is moving into the orange tier for safely reopening counties during the coronavirus pandemic

Outdoor dining in San Diego
Photo by SANDY HUFFAKER/AFP via Getty Images

Now that San Diego County has reached the orange tier, capacity limitations and restrictions are being loosened for restaurants, bars, wineries and breweries -- and it's welcome news for the owners of those establishments.

Starting Wednesday, restaurants can operate indoors at 50% capacity, or 200 people, whichever is fewer, while table-distancing and mask-wearing must continue under the less-restrictive orange tier.

Some customers going to wineries and breweries will be allowed to drink inside. Those businesses have to limit capacity to 25%, or less than 100 people indoors.

For more than a year, bars not serving food were shut down. Now, they can reopen and serve people in outdoor spaces, if proper COVID-19 precautions are taken.

Jean Paul Rojo, the owner of Tacos El Cabrón, told NBC 7 keeping his restaurant afloat in San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter has been a team effort for more than a year.

"It's been very, very tough. The local people around us have been amazing. They've all supported us," he said.

Rojo said reinventing his business model has also helped keep his doors open.

"We try to be very creative in our social media channels, utilizing delivery tablets like UberEats and Postmates," he said.

Rojo told NBC 7 he’s been working 12 to 14 hour days -- every day -- and had to cut roughly 90% of his staff because his business was making less than half of what it did pre-pandemic.

Two huge steps forward in getting back to pre-COVID-19 life: In just hours, San Diego County officially moves into the orange tier; we also know when California may fully reopen. Plus: A big update on the injury to Padres star shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. NBC 7’s Monica Dean has the Nightly Check-In for Tuesday, March 6.

"50%. It makes a big difference and not only for the amount of people that we can have inside the business, but also the people that now will be coming out. Because even with the 25% a lot of people were not coming out," he said.

Marcos Luciano, the owner of Dobson’s, a bar and restaurant serving San Diegans downtown for over 35 years, told NBC 7 he’s been waiting for this moment for a long time.

"…When people come out of bars, they're looking for something to eat. And we have to be closed," he said.

The increase in capacity limits is a welcome relief for Luciano's business.

"25% was a joke…It's a big help. It's not, you know, it's not 100%, but definitely 50% is way better than 25%," he said.

It may not be much longer until businesses can return to normal capacity limits. Governor Newsom announced Tuesday that the state will remove the tier system and fully reopen on June 15 if vaccination and hospitalization numbers throughout the state remain stable.