Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Food & Drinks
Published on February 18, 2021
San Francisco could end up having 3,000 semi-permanent dining parklets once pandemic endsPhoto: Jay Barmann/Hoodline

Thanks to a streamlined approval process from the city and a proposed law making its way through the state legislature, San Francisco could be looking at an outdoor dining explosion in the coming years — going from a town with very few al fresco dining options to one with several thousand relatively new ones.

Bars and restaurants have to assume that even as pandemic restrictions are lifted, business is going to continue to suffer with some percentage of the population still uncomfortable with enclosed and crowded indoor spaces. In response, cities across the state have let restaurants and bars spill into alleys, parking lots, and street-parking spaces, as well as onto sidewalks where they weren't all permitted to be previously, so that they could make some revenue from serving people outdoors.

In San Francisco, there are now 2,000 of these so-called Shared Spaces platforms and permitted areas, commonly referred to as parklets, and about 1,000 more are in the pipeline for approval, as KTVU recently reported. Just last week, state Senator Scott Wiener introduced a bill in the state Senate that would make liquor service permanently permissible in these parklets — and also ease some other liquor laws and create a new license type for music venues. So, if all goes well, we may be looking at a new, long-term era of outdoor imbibing and eating with upwards of 3,000 of these new spaces — though car-owners will no doubt hate the loss of more street parking.

An added bonus: A separate bill introduced last week in the legislature would make to-go cocktails a permanent thing, if it passes.

Robin Abad Ocubillo, director of the Shared Spaces Program, tells KTVU, "We want to make this a permanent part of our toolbox, and indeed, Mayor [London] Breed remains very committed to transitioning the Shared Spaces Program from an emergency response into a permanent part of the city's toolbox for helping our neighborhood commercial corridors."

The parklets have been a boon for many businesses, and some even have more tables now with the outdoor space than they used to have inside. One of those is Swan Oyster Depot, and Brian Dwyer from the restaurant tells KTVU, "We built this parklet back in August, and ever since... business has, not returned to normal, but it's helped us out tremendously."

"We need to do everything in our power as we come out of this pandemic to make sure that these small businesses can succeed," said Wiener in a statement. "And to make sure that the ones that have closed permanently, that other businesses can quickly come into those spaces so we don't have mass vacancies in our neighborhoods."

As of last fall, the Shared Spaces Program was officially extended through June 2021, as Hoodline previously reported. And it is almost certainly going to be extended again by the Board of Supervisors in the coming weeks or months, given the uncertainties around the vaccine rollout and COVID variants that could further stymie a complete return to indoor dining this year.