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Saturday, Dec 3, 2022

Indoor Dining Returns to OC

We’re more than a year into the pandemic, and Orange County restaurants have added a new word to their culinary vocabulary: pivot.

Forced to close in March 2020, restaurants have been pivoting from being open to being closed, then open for limited indoor dining, then reduced to patio dining, then forced to offer takeout only, then back to patio dining, and more recently able to reopen indoors—first at 25% and now at 50% indoor capacity.

At the rate we’re going, dining may soon be back to something resembling normal.  

Approaching Normal

Things are certainly looking better in Orange County, which is now in the Orange Tier in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. This means restaurants can allow indoor dining at 50% capacity. Add to that the existing patio dining, and more restaurants are inching closer to their pre-pandemic numbers.

According to Pamela Waitt, CEO and president of the Orange County Restaurant Association, the past year has been “one of the most tumultuous times the culinary industry has experienced,” but notes that with the easing of indoor dining restrictions, restaurants are now cautiously optimistic. The vaccine rollout and increased indoor dining means “recovery will be able to happen, although some restaurants have been hanging on by a thread.”

I visited Tavern House Kitchen + Bar in Newport Beach soon after indoor dining returned last month, and was pleased to see the place busy on a Tuesday night.

Owner and longtime restaurateur David Wilhelm told me that between the indoor dining and patio dining, his business was back at pre-pandemic levels.

Easter Brunch is always a popular time to dine out, which I did at The Winery Tustin with fellow foodie Della Lisi. We were pleased to see everyone from couples to families enjoying the indoor atmosphere, and the patio also had multiple diners. The prix-fixe Easter menu offered a choice of eight appetizers and eight entrées. The heirloom tomatoes starter was elegant and delicious, while the shrimp and crab meat chilaquiles dish was packed with generous portions of seafood.  

According to Winery partner William Lewis (whom I profiled in the Business Journal’s February salute to Black-owned businesses), all three of The Winery locations—Tustin, Newport Beach and La Jolla—were doing well.

In fact, said Lewis, he hoped it would be a few more weeks before Orange County hit the even less restrictive Yellow Tier, because he needed time to hire more staff and get them trained to handle the expected increase in diners.

Newport Beach Restaurant Week

The lessoning of dining restrictions has come at a perfect time for Newport Beach restaurants, as Dine Newport Beach and the Newport Beach Restaurant Association have announced the return of the 15th Annual Newport Beach Restaurant Week, April 19-May 2.

To say this is a highly anticipated event is an understatement. Newport’s Restaurant Week is normally held in January, but was postponed until restrictions eased.

“We’re excited to expand our restaurant week program this year with prix-fixe menus and beyond to allow more dining establishments to easily participate and provide more options to guests,” says Carlos Godinez, president of the Newport Beach Restaurant Association and GM of Tavern House. “We want to express our sincerest gratitude to the community for their continued outpouring support of our local restaurant industry.”

For the first time, all participating restaurants and their offerings will be housed in the NBRW Pass, a one-stop digital dining directory for Newport Beach Restaurant Week. After signing up at visitnewportbeach.com/Restaurant-Week for the NBRW pass, guests can view a list of participating restaurants, available offers and special menus.

For more information, visit the website visitnewportbeach.com/dinenewportbeach.

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