Strict rules for restaurants that want to open in Phase 2 of Washington’s plan to reopen the economy have some owners wondering if they should stay closed. Others, however, plan to open with limited seating because the extra income will help, but hope the next phase comes quickly.
Chad White, who operates two High Tide Lobster Bars and TT’s Old Iron Brewery and BBQ, said he might not be able to afford the extra costs while being limited to half capacity. The new guidelines have “a long string of requirements,” including masks and other personal protective equipment, sanitizing tables, sales and point of sale equipment after each use, he said.
“How many dollars are we willing to step over to pick up pennies?” White wondered Tuesday.
The cost of extra equipment and staff for sanitizing might not stack up to a business model that limits restaurants to half their seating capacity.
Adam Hegsted, who operates several restaurants in Spokane and North Idaho, said they initially had a rough time reducing everything to takeout.
“We were forced to get a little better with business,” Hegsted said. Now he believes that even opening at half capacity means extra revenue on top of the takeout model and can operate in Phase 2 “as long as we’re not doing it for six months.”
Indoor service at restaurants was closed in Washington in mid-March as the number of COVID-19 cases began to mount. Gov. Jay Inslee issued a “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order and limited workers to jobs essential to fighting the virus and supporting needed supplies and services.
Monday evening, Inslee announced rules to allow inside dining at restaurants and taverns to resume in Phase 2 of reopening the state economy. So far only eight counties, including Stevens, Lincoln, Pend Oreille and Ferry, have been allowed to move to Phase 2 because they’ve had few or no deaths from COVID-19 and no new cases in three weeks.
The state is developing rules for the early reopening of counties with more than 75,000 people, and Spokane County commissioners voted Tuesday morning to ask for a variance to move to Phase 2. Inslee said Tuesday afternoon state officials will look at that request but the rules for larger counties might not be ready for “a couple weeks.”
The state as a whole is expected to move to Phase 2 at some point in June, so restaurateurs know it’s just a matter of time before they have to weigh the costs of reopening table service against the costs of staying closed or sticking with takeout.
The requirements for personal protective equipment like masks, goggles and gloves mount quickly and have to be built into already thin profit margins, White said. At TT’s, which is serving barbecue takeout, each employee goes through a box of protective gloves each day.
Hegsted said his operation gets a trial run by starting up dining at reduced capacity in the next week at Honey Eatery and Social Club in Coeur d’Alene and Republic Kitchen and Taphouse in Post Falls. Some of the Idaho rules and limitations are similar to what will eventually be required in Washington, where he operates Yards Bruncheon, Wandering Table, Incrediburger & Eggs, and the Gilded Unicorn in Spokane.
He also thinks adding outdoor seating at several restaurants – also available under the Washington guidelines as long as the 6-foot distances between customers and limits of five to a table are followed – will bring those establishments closer to the normal inside seating numbers.
The guidelines also call for restaurants to get the names and contact information of customers, and keep them for 30 days in case the state needs to inform them that a diner who was in the restaurant at the same time later tests positive for COVID-19.
“There’s quite a few people that have a problem with that,” White said. “They don’t know where that information is going.”
Hegsted agrees that’s one of the toughest items in the Phase 2 guidelines.
“I don’t think everybody’s going to want to give that information,” he said.
Those who won’t will probably be refused service, but Hegsted hopes they’ll understand it’s a state regulation, like not serving minors, and won’t hold it against the restaurant.
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