Restaurant owners hungry for indoor dining’s return as seasons change

After six long months of closures and reduced operations, restaurant owners are keeping their fingers crossed that indoor dining will return before the weather turns.

“The end of the season here means if we don’t get indoor dining, a lot of restaurants are going to continue to fall or shut their doors temporarily,” said Crista Luedtke, chef and owner of three Guerneville restaurants and the proprietor of boon hotel + spa. “Because I can say confidently, 25% or even 50% indoors, the numbers just don’t work.”

Winter is already difficult in Guerneville, which subsists mostly on a summer tourism boom each year. Luedtke says with her PPP funding running out, she decided to close one of her restaurants for the winter to stem her losses and focus her operations.

Even with many municipalities allowing restaurants to use public spaces for dining, setting up an outdoor dining room is a major project.

“Most of us don’t have that opportunity to have a beautiful space outdoors,” she explained. “And it does take a lot of planning and a lot of integration.”

For Luedtke, the key to making it through the winter will be takeout.

“I had to restructure my menu for things that I knew would travel better and hold up in a box and you know I think that’s the only way really that we’re going to make it to the other side of this,” she said. “I’m not saying I’m not going to lose money all winter – I will – it’s just trying to find that balance between being able to sustain a specific loss and get to the other side of it.”

Takeout, limited indoor dining and another round of federal funding are all tools that will help more restaurants survive the winter.

“I do think we will get there by spring. I’m trying to be very optimistic on this,” she said. "I need it to be.”