Earlier this year, a run on essentials — such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer — caused some shortages at grocery stores, as Washingtonians looked to stock up during the stay-at-home order, not really sure how long the mandates would last. Now, it looks like those unnecessary panic buying times are here again. After Gov. Jay Inslee announced new restrictions on gatherings and businesses Sunday, there were soon empty shelves at local supermarkets picked clean of various staples — some, such as Safeway, are even considering reinstating limits on how many of such items customers can purchase.
As one might recall, restaurants and bars once saw a potential opening in the black market for toilet paper and other supplies. Back in the spring, some had bulk orders from suppliers collecting dust after dining rooms were shut down the first time. A few decided to package them with takeout orders to sweeten the deals — even breweries got in on the action. But, this time, those gimmicks will likely be scarce.
“Our non-food suppliers have been affected by the same shortages as groceries,” says Jeremy Price of the Sea Creatures restaurant group, which includes the newly revamped Whale Wins Cafe and Larder, a hybrid market and counter service restaurant. Price explains that, while a few places may still try to sell items like toilet paper, the past eight months of the pandemic have taken their toll up and down the supply chain in the hospitality industry, so there’s probably no huge surplus of gloves, hand sanitizer, and paper products for restaurants to leverage for retail or giveaways.
Meanwhile, other establishments have already devoted a great deal of their resources to shifted to takeout, and finding ways to cram in extras may not be worth the effort. Seapine had done a toilet paper giveaway back in March, but the acclaimed Georgetown Brewery says it is unlikely to do so again, focusing instead on the retail operation to get through what is likely to be a long winter, with no customers allowed inside until at least December 14. “Before the pandemic we were draft-only,” says Seapine’s wholesale manager Steve Little. “We offer cans now with placements in grocery, specialty, and convenience stores around the Seattle-Tacoma area. We are doubling down on all off-premise sales for the foreseeable future.”
That said, some restaurants do see a value in — or necessity — in maintaining corner store vibes. Central District French restaurant L’Oursin had just started dine-in services again for two nights before Inslee made his announcement. So it will go back to some of its former takeout options, including the fried chicken and sandwich pop-up Old Scratch, while keeping its retail market going with charcuterie and other prepared foods, cheese, meat, fish, and vegetables. “We’ve also got an idea for a limited patio dining situation we’re hoping to implement in the next week,” says co-owner Zac Overman.
As for those bulk grocery story purchases, it should be noted that, in his recent press conference, Inslee discouraged “buying up everything you can get your hands on,” noting, “our supply chain is good.” Here’s a list of tips for shoppers.