San Francisco restaurants may be in hibernation soon.

With indoor eating banned again and winter weather slowing outdoor revenue, a growing number of restaurants in the city are considering the more drastic move of potentially closing for the next few months for the first time. Others are considering closing for the second time since the pandemic started due to a lack of business.

It’s a final effort, known in the industry as “hibernating,” which allows business owners to cut groceries, supplies, and payroll costs over time, with the hope of reopening.

Some of the city’s more historic restaurants have already made the leap. The 171-year-old financial district Tadich Grill decided not to reopen in November after San Francisco failed to allow 50% of the capacity for indoor dining. And that’s exactly why the Boulevard in San Francisco, the Northern California chef Nancy Oakes in Northern California, who opened more than 20 years ago, went into hibernation on November 22nd.

Then there are a ton of other chefs and restaurateurs who are heavily considering the move despite complications like drawing up contracts with landlords, paying employees, and being unsure whether they can reopen.

Prubechu Guaman restaurant in the Mission District was considering hibernation after an indoor dining ban was announced. In just one day, co-owners Shawn Camacho and Shawn Naputi discovered 30 outdoor dining reservations had been canceled.

“Every time we get going, something else shows up and stops,” said Camacho. “We haven’t made that decision in a while, but we’ve never been as close to making that decision as we are now.”

San Francisco’s E&O Kitchen & Bar, a pioneer in the city’s Asian fusion scene that opened 20 years ago, hibernated briefly in March to save money. While Sharon Nahm, the restaurant’s chef, said there are no immediate plans to return to hibernation, “that decision may change next week or the week after.”

“It is realistic to say that every restaurant needs to have the conversation about it right now,” said Nahm.

What has fueled the idea lately is the surge in COVID-19 cases across the state and the way officials have struggled to enforce restrictions. Governor Gavin Newsom forced most of California’s counties into the most restrictive purple tier of his reopening plan, causing every county in the Bay Area to ban indoor dining. Newsom also put a curfew on counties struggling to control the spread of the virus.

Local restaurateurs are also concerned about a possible ban on outdoor dining, similar to Los Angeles County’s, that could further curb sources of income for the industry. It’s all part of an increasingly somber picture for the San Francisco dining scene, said Laurie Thomas, owner of Rose’s Café and Terzo. She saw restrictions affect her business on Tuesday when her Mediterranean-inspired San Francisco restaurant, Terzo, served around 14 customers, a number she was “hard to survive” with.

“What people are trying to find out right now is, are we hibernating to save money? It’s a real decision at this point, ”said Thomas, who also serves as executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

Closing has advantages: most obviously, it can save money on payroll, utilities, and grocery ingredients. At Beit Rima, San Francisco’s trendy Arab comfort restaurant, chef and owner Samir Mogannam said he was considering hibernating because it could save tens of thousands of dollars. At the start of the pandemic, he wrote a check for $ 36,000 in employee health care fees – money that wasn’t caught up in sales.

“My employees are young and healthy, and if we don’t pay for something like this, it’s difficult to deal with,” he said. “It’s just something else that makes me shut up for a while. It would be a big deal to be able to save a few thousand dollars when we really need it. “

When E&O temporarily closed earlier this year, Nahm saved $ 10,000 to $ 20,000 on payroll. When you add the utilities and grocery bill, the total is a savings of $ 20,000 to $ 25,000. Umberto Gibin, the owner of the upscale financial district of Perbacco, said he saved between $ 10,000 and $ 20,000 a month just by taking his employees’ leave when he closed his Italian restaurant in July and August. On rent, he worked with his landlord to delay payments during the brief hibernation, although he refused to go into details.

“The conversation was very clear – we are temporarily closed to save money – and we told our landlord that. There was nothing else to do and he agreed, ”Gibin said. “Saving the money has helped us so far.”

David Hanna, General Manager of Tadich Grill, takes an order over the phone while working at Tadich Grill in July.  The restaurant is closed for the foreseeable future.

However, hibernation is not easy. Gibin has no plans to close again because he’s careful about losing regulars. Before Perbacco closed in the summer, regular customers placed bulk orders. When it reopened in September, these guests weren’t returning in full force, he said.

“It’s a natural result,” he said. “If you move away from the market, people will go and do something different.”

Took was able to negotiate business with her landlord and other companies, but it had become more difficult as the pandemic progressed, she said. “If there weren’t any city requirements for bill collectors to be more lenient, they’ll come to raise money,” she said.

In addition, the reopening process is complicated. Restaurants are again having to find and hire staff while they are nimble enough to accommodate fluctuations in security restrictions. Took described reopening a restaurant after a month-long shutdown as “twice as much work” as the store originally opened. She cited reasons such as quickly recovering payments from suppliers, hiring new employees after those laid off find other jobs, and setting up take-out and delivery operations.

“It’s a difficult position when you’re trying to get out of hibernation,” she said.

Still, some restaurateurs are starting to believe that they have no choice but to do it. With some companies considering temporary closings, the Bay Area food scene has been plagued by permanent shutdowns since the pandemic began. Some industry experts expect the local industry to lose at least half of its total restaurants before the pandemic ends.

Brandon Jew, the owner of San Francisco’s Michelin-starred Mister Jiu’s, said that while he hasn’t decided to hibernate his Chinatown restaurant, the idea of ​​doing so is never far from his Mind be removed.

“So much is happening right now that you really have to consider all of your options,” he said. “It’s all about making the best decision for your people and your company because you want them to have a place after all of that.”

However, a number of San Francisco chefs remain optimistic about the future of the industry, including Jews, even as talk about hibernation increases. Jude said he hopes the Restaurants Act, a $ 120 billion fund that grants small restaurants grants to pay wages, salaries, benefits, rent and personal protective equipment for workers, is passed soon and as a lifeline for places like his serves. Meanwhile, he believes the San Francisco food scene has a chance to become more fascinating.

He pointed to the proliferation of pop-ups in the Bay Area, businesses that don’t have to worry about high overheads, labor costs or rent, such as: B. stationary shops. He said these chefs have an opportunity to play a bigger role in shaping food in the city during the pandemic.

“Honestly, I’m a little excited to see these pop-ups grow and build their following,” he said. “What you might get after a while is a food scene that is a little gritty and can take more risks. It’s one of the few things we can look forward to. “

Justin Phillips is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @JustMrPhillips