Coronavirus fallout: Restaurants say cancellations are high

San Francisco restaurant owners say the city’s state of emergency declaration appeared to be adding to people’s fears about the coronavirus.

They say after Mayor London Breed’s declaration Tuesday, they’ve experienced an unusually high number of cancellations.

Kim Alter, the chef and owner of Nightbird in the Hayes Valley neighborhood, said not long after the emergency declaration, the cancellations started coming in.

One came from a patron who cancelled just three hours before his reservation for a party of eight.

“He had a client who was coming in  He was going to show him a nice time and the client felt uncomfortable coming into San Francisco due to the state of the emergency,” said Alter.

She counted 13 cancellations on Tuesday, followed by 20 on Wednesday and 17 on Thursday.

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This comes as Alter was just named a semi-finalist for the prestigious James Beard Awards for California’s Best Chef.

This is Alter’s second nomination. The first was two years ago.

“The last time I got nominated, we jumped up about 20 percent. So we dropped 20 percent this time," Alter said.

She said other restaurant owners have also experienced a drop in business that they attribute to coronavirus fears and that the emergency declaration didn’t help.

“You suddenly see a drop in foot traffic 70 percent 80 percent . You’re going to have to start taking hours away from your employees to stay alive,” said Jay Cheng with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.

He said the mayor’s state of emergency declaration was necessary to get state and federal resources, but that unfounded fear could do lasting damage to small businesses.

“We talk to business owners every day . They have real fear about what's happening to their businesses,” said Cheng.

Some folks said they’re trying to do their part.

“We work in the neighborhood and like to support our local businesses so we're just maintaining that ,” said Rachel Smith, a bar patron.

 Her friend, Jasmarie Murry, said the coronavirus is something she thinks about, but that concerns about it won’t stop her from doing what she normally does, but she does take precautions, “Continue washing your hands regularly. Just be mindful when you're out in public spaces but I think that's all we can do.”

For Alter, she’s determined to weather this storm. “Without small restaurants like us and all the other restaurants in this neighborhood , San Francisco wouldn't be the same,” said Alter.

Restaurant owners said the coronavirus scare is just adding to the list of reasons people have given for not coming to San Francisco, along with dirty streets, the homeless and open drug use.

The Chamber of Commerce said it wants to remind the public that there are currently no reported coronavirus cases in San Francisco.

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Amber Lee is a reporter forKTVU.  Email Amber at and follow her on Twitter@AmberKTVU