Ron Childers (left) and Paul Michael have lunch at The Cork & Plough’s back patio area in downtown King City. The Town Square structure means the restaurant is able to offer dining options either in the warm sun or the protection of shade. (Photo by Sean Roney)

KING CITY — Restaurants in California have had to get creative to stay afloat during the Covid-19 shelter-in-place era, especially since the latest restrictions on operation prevent them from using indoor dining areas.

While many have returned to take-out and delivery orders, some have turned to outdoor dining as an option for their guests.

“Dine-in restaurants must close indoor seating for customers,” said Dr. Edward Moreno, the county’s health officer, about the current health orders. “During the closure, all dine-in restaurants may continue to utilize outdoor seating.”

Businesses affected by the latest order, from restaurants to museums to wine tasting rooms, may use outdoor areas as long as those areas follow health protocol guidance, such as use of masks and social distancing.

“I was thankful that this time we were able to dine outside,” said Katie Dodson, owner of Wildhorse Cafe outside King City.

Dodson said the original March shutdown had a huge impact on business, but then the restaurant saw an increase in June when dining rooms were allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity. Half a dining room, however, still impacts business.

Susan Childers of The Cork & Plough in King City said that business was “increasing slowly” after the ease of restrictions in June, then the second wave of limitations hit in July.

“This is a setback, but I really hope people take advantage of the beautiful patio seating,” Childers said.

At C&P, the restaurant is utilizing back and front patio areas shaded by the Town Square structures at different times, as well as a walkway shared with the King City Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture that was converted into a third patio area.

In Dodson’s case, she has a large shared parking lot with a truck stop outside her restaurant, an area she has used for Independence Day car shows in the past. She happened to have canopies used in those car shows for guest seating, booths and DJ performances.

Covid-19 may have caused a cancellation of this year’s car show, but the space and canopies were still at the ready for a solution.

“We have more tables outside, right now I have 11 tables,” Dodson said.

She noted that indoor seating at half capacity meant she had eight tables. In the case of Wildhorse Cafe, the switch to outdoor seating means more total tables.

The King City Denny’s has set up some tables outside, but has also invited their guests to picnic with social distancing on the lawn area as an alternative to sitting at a table.

“I didn’t like the idea when I saw it happening, but I’m enjoying it now,” said Paul Michael from a diner’s perspective, as he ate lunch at the C&P back patio. “It’s not December and this is a beautiful time of year to do this.”

California in the summertime works for outdoor dining, with a few local challenges that indoor diners don’t have to go through.

“In the afternoon, it gets a little too hot, but when the wind kicks up a little bit, it’s OK,” Dodson said, adding that early mornings might be chilly for some guests, as well.

At C&P, dealing with Salinas Valley wind with California weather means being prepared for both wind and sun. Childers explained the back patio area is shaded during lunch service, while the two front patios are protected from wind in the late afternoon.

“We’re fortunate that we have a lot of space here,” Childers said about the ability to adapt with outdoor seating.

However, with space still being limited at all restaurants, Childers said it is a good idea to make reservations to ensure a restaurant can accommodate a dining group.

“I’m happy to be able to be open and have my staff back on, and they’re happy to be here,” Dodson said, as two of her waitresses served customers on a Thursday afternoon.

Breana Magaraci (left) and Lorrie Simpson clean tables immediately after guests leave their seats to ensure proper observation of health protocols at Wildhorse Cafe’s outdoor dining area south of King City. The county has permitted restaurants to use outdoor seating only if protocols are followed and enforced. (Photo by Sean Roney)
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Sean Roney is a freelance reporter for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for the Salinas Valley communities in South Monterey County.


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