A California restaurant is using tabletop air purifiers and an air quality specialist to make indoor dining safe again. (Photo: Sierra Mar)

Just south of Monterey, California, a fine dining restaurant is experimenting with ways to make it’s indoor dining room safer. 

Located inside the Post Ranch Inn in Loma Vista, and with floor-to-ceiling views of the Paciifc Ocean, Sierra Mar is a Big Sur attraction. Thankfully, the Pandemic did not claim Sierra Mar, it re-opened in March 2021 – but with a few noticeable changes. 

In addition to the 18 mini tabletop air purifiers, there are now 10 HEPA air purifiers strategically placed throughout the establishment, four sensors measuring air quality in real time and an upgrading HVAC system. There’s also an air quality specialist seated in the back of the bar, constantly monitoring the air quality. 

A Breath of Fresh Air

“Ventilation has to keep up with the head count,” says Mark Hernadez, a professor of Environmental Engineering at the University of Colorado. He was brought in to oversee the “experiment” and designed the system at Sierra Mar. 

Mark has deployed several indoor air quality monitoring systems for several Colorado schools and believes even after the pandemic, his services will continue to be in high demand.

Partially paid for by a regional foundation, Sierra Mar’s upgraded air system costs $30,000. 

Mike Freed is the managing partner of the Post Ranch Inn, the luxury resort that Sierra Mar is a part of, “I’ve become obsessed with air quality.” 

He spent $7500 to buy the air purification equipment and knows the investment is making his Guests feel safer dining indoors. Why? His system completely replenishes the air in the dining room with fresh, Big Sur air up to six times an hour. The results? Near hospital-grade quality air. 

Guests at Post Ranch Inn can even check the air quality there from the resorts website.

Since the Coronavirus (or for that matter, any virus or particulates) linger longer indoors, air flow (and more specifically, improved airflow) will be a primary focus of restaurant and retail operators moving forward. 

While no system offers 100% protection, both scientists and researchers who have seen the Sierra Mar set up are convinced it’s a step in the right direction and can significantly help to reduce risk. 

“I don’t think it’s rocket science,” Freed says, “which is why it’s mind-boggling to me that the public health officials aren’t talking to the building scientists.”   

Re-organize Your Floorplan & Airflow

Linsey Marr is a expert on aerosols at Virginia Tech, she explains the virus “is carried in aerosols that are larger because the virus comes out with lots of salts and proteins that are in respiratory fluid,” but says of the system at Sierra Mar, “Having good mixing, good filtration of the air in the restaurant generally, you will reduce exposure to people at other tables.” 

In addition to reduced capacity, plexiglass dividers and other tools, Sierra Mar uses Mila air purifiers that pull air from under the unit and all four sides. The systems then clean and recirculate the air several times an hour (and relatively quietly) – which is key for a restaurant setting – especially where people raise their voices to talk over the ambience and spew particles that hang in the air.  

That Pacific breeze helps, too. Having the ability to open the restaurant to the fresh ocean air helps naturally purify the restaurant air, even on chilly nights. And guess what? When diners eat inside, no one’s complaining about the cold. 


While you may not have the money to purchase a new air filtration system, you definitely want to consider re-org’ing your dining room for better air flow. EyeSpy’s restaurant consultants can help you find your dining room’s “feng shui.” We can also put you in touch with air quality and HVAC experts. 

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