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Ceres restaurants offering outdoor dining when they can
Fifth Street Cafe
A number of customers of Fifth Street Cafe enjoy breakfast at tables set up in the parking lot. Many eateries have offered outdoor dining to save their businesses. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Seeing no end in sight to the current COVID-19 restrictions, more and more Ceres restaurants – previously forced to limit serving food through to-go orders only by county health officials and Gov. Gavin Newsom – are offering to serve customers outside their restaurants.

My Garden Café, Alfonso’s Mexican Restaurant and Sam’s Café are among businesses which have purchased pop-out tents and in some cases light weight tables and chairs to accommodate those who want a break from eating at home or in their cars.

Sherrill McManus Peterson, owner of Sam’s Café on Fifth Street, said she was waiting to see if the state’s restrictions would be lifted and decided that to-go food orders four busiest days a week were not going to support her business. She decided a week ago to begin offering outdoor dining seven days a week as long as the weather allows it or until the restrictions are relaxed.

“One of our customers,” said Peterson, “ran into us at the grocery store and she says, ‘When are you guys going to open?’ And I’m like, ‘We are open.’ Some of my older people don’t do social media.”

The situation is far from ideal. She doesn’t anticipate people wanting to eat outside her eatery on hot days or smoky days like recently.

The outdoor dining arrangement means a lot of extra walking for waiters and waitresses busing between the restaurant kitchen and tables. They also wear masks.

Peterson feels like individuals should be allowed the freedom to determine how to run their restaurants safely.

“With the guidelines that came down I don’t think restaurants should have been thrown in with bars. When they let bars open up … bartenders didn’t have to wear masks. And you’re dancing and meeting people.”

At a time when restaurants are already struggling, outdoor dining also adds to their costs. Peterson said she had to buy new tables and chairs and awnings.

It remains to be seen if the café can pay its bills under the new requirements. Peterson applied for the Stanislaus County micro-grant but it takes 30 days to find out if help will arrive.

“I don’t know if I’ll get it,” said Peterson, whose business was shut down for 15 months after a November 2017 fire. 

“I have payroll protection but they only gave me $16,000. Well, that’s not even going to cover two months of wages. It’ll be forgivable if I use it towards the wages and that helps me out a little bit. I don’t know how long this is going go because what happens when winter comes and it starts raining?”

Some have questioned the point of allowing people to eat outdoors – where wind can blow around viruses when people sit at their tables to dine – but not allowed to eat indoors. Purnima Madhivanan, Infectious Disease Epidemiologist and Assistant Professor at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, says it’s because dining indoors may pose a risk because of the air circulation.

“It’s a closed environment, it’s recirculated air, and the virus is still in the air for a while so you’re likelihood of getting a dose of that virus is going to be much higher because you’re staying there for a longer period of time,” she said.

Alfonso's outside
Alfonso’s Mexican Bar and Grill has set up an outdoor dining area on the lawn between the restaurant and Lara home to accommodate customers in light of COVID-19 restrictions. Here are this table at Yvette and Ken Lane, Mark and Marie Joiner and Duane Thompson.
My Garden Cafe
Breakfast is served outdoors, for now, outside the My Garden Cafe on Whitmore Avenue.