UPDATE:  As of May 21, 2020, the State has approved San Diego County’s expanded reopening variance. Now that the County has been given the green light, restaurants and retails will begin to reopen for in-person dining and services.  Businesses should closely and thoroughly review the County’s guidelines.  The County’s attestation documents (including its Safe Reopening Plan, Restaurant Operating Protocol, and Industry Guidance for Retail) can be found here.


Earlier this week, the San Diego County supervisors approved the submission of the County’s regional variance to State officials.  If and when approved, the variance would allow the County to move ahead and more rapidly reopen businesses within the County.  Likewise, it would also allow in-person customers at restaurants and retail businesses.  As part of its “safer reopening,” and in anticipation of the variance being granted, San Diego has already issued specific guidelines and guidance for restaurants, including a Safe Onsite Dining Plan for Restaurants and a COVID-19 Restaurant Operating Protocol.

Here is what restaurants need to know.

COVID-19 Safe Onsite Dining Plan for Restaurants & Restaurant Operating Protocol

San Diego County had previously issued a Safe Reopening Plan for retail businesses.  Unsurprisingly, the COVID-19 Safe Onsite Dining Plan for Restaurants (the “Dining Plan”) and Restaurant Operating Protocol are fairly similar, but contain restaurant-specific guidelines.

The Dining Plan and Restaurant Operating Protocol include five (5) major measures for dine-in restaurants: employee health, social distancing, education for the dining public, measures to increase sanitation and disinfection, and recommended additional measures.  Except for the last one, all measures are mandatory, so restaurants should thoroughly review both the Dining Plan and the Restaurant Operating Protocol.

Some of the key items under each measure are discussed below.

Employee Health

As part of safeguarding employee health, businesses must conduct thermal or temperature scans of employees on a daily basis, as well as conduct health screening of employee prior to the beginning of each shift.

With respect to face coverings, all employees must wear them if they interact with the public and when social distancing from co-workers is not feasible.

Businesses must provide a copy of their Restaurant Operating Protocols and ensure that all employees have read and understand the San Diego County’s COVID-19 Fact Sheet.

Businesses must require employees to avoid handshakes or similar physical greetings.

Social Distancing

Restaurants should be fairly familiar with social distancing measures by now.  However, the Dining Plan provides further and more specific guidelines.

All tables must be 6-feet apart, and if they cannot be moved (for example, if they are bolted), then restaurants must install a barrier or partition to separate them.

Now, restaurants will also have to be mindful of how many people can sit at a single table.  Indeed, single-table usage can be limited to household units.  While the Dining Plan also provides that patrons who have asked to be seated together may do so at a single table, it is unclear as to whether there is a maximum number of people allowed.  For example, the Dining Plan does not address what to do when dealing with a party of 10 or more people.

Education for the Dining Public

Is this a “new” set of measures?  Not quite.

This measure requires restaurants to continue to post signs reminding customers to maintain social distancing, wash their hands, and stay home if exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms.  The Restaurant Operating Protocol must be also be posted in a visible location for customers.

But note, when not seated at their table, customers must wear face coverings.

Sanitation and Disinfection

In short, the Dining Plan prohibits:

  • The use of food items that can be touched by multiple customers or shared between tables (e.g., condiment bottles, saltshakers, etc.).
  • Self-service buffets, salad bars, or soda machines.
  • Tableside food preparation.

If single-service or single-use items (such as menus or disposable utensils) are not or cannot be provided, businesses must ensure that they are disinfected (in the case of menus), or washed, rinsed and sanitized (in the case of silverware).

Restaurants must also designate a “team member” per shift to oversee or enforce any additional sanitation and disinfection procedures.

Recommended Additional Measures (Non-Mandatory)

The Dining Plan also recommends optional measures that restaurants should consider implementing.  These include:

  • Usage of non-person-to-person payment systems (e.g., touchless).
  • Implementing a reservation process in order to prevent gatherings and promote social distancing.
  • One Party, One Server: to the extent possible, only one employee should serve an individual party.
  • In addition to handwashing, use disposable gloves when conducting employee health screenings, handling items contaminated by body fluids, touching items used by customers or handling trash bags (Note: Based on this, it can be inferred that disposable gloves are not required).

Other County Guidance

San Diego County’s Department of Environmental Health, Food and Housing Division, had also previously issued COVID-19 Guidance for Food Facility Re-Openings.  This guidance was issued to prevent food safety risks.  The Guidance can be found here.

Again, even though the State has not granted the County’s variance, restaurants should be proactive, review the guidance, and ensure compliance with all new requirements.  This will ensure that businesses are ready to hit the ground running.  Happy dining!