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Revision to Washington’s Restaurant Reopening Rules: Logging Diner Info Is Now Optional

Gov. Jay Inslee said Friday that taking down emails and phone numbers for contact tracing would be done on a voluntary basis

A sign at a restaurant that says, “Please Wait to Be Seated”
Diners in Washington can voluntarily offer their info for contact tracing, but won’t be refused service if they don’t.

On Friday night, Gov. Jay Inslee issued a significant policy revision for the state’s reopening plan for restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic. Establishments resuming dine-in services are no longer required to collect information from patrons — such as phone numbers and emails — for the purposes of tracking the potential spread of the novel coronavirus. Customers can give that info voluntarily.

Earlier this week, Washington issued a set of guidelines that restaurants must adopt when entering “phase two” of Washington’s reopening plan, which allows dining rooms to have 50 percent occupancy. According to the initial announcement, restaurants that offer table service were required to keep a daily log of phone numbers, emails, and arrival times for everybody who comes in to eat. This was to facilitate contact tracing, a rigorous method of tracking and monitoring those who may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

But the logging requirement received some pushback from those who wondered how this information would be used, including the American Civil Liberties Union. And those in the industry raised concerns. Logan Cox, chef and co-owner of the Beacon Hill restaurant Homer, told Eater Seattle it was a “borderline invasion of privacy.” Even though Inslee tried to assuage those fears earlier this week by saying that the state government would closely monitor the collection and disposal of the data to make sure it wasn’t misused, questions surrounding logistics remained.

“Businesses are still obligated to maintain a customer log of those who voluntarily provide their information,” Inslee said in a statement Friday. “The purpose of the log is to notify individuals if they have been exposed to COVID-19. The information will only be shared with public health officials if you are exposed. Public health officials will contact you to explain the risk, answer your questions and provide resources. This information will not be used for any other purpose, including sales or marketing. If this list is not used within 30 days, it will destroy it.”

Some rural counties in Washington have already entered phase two faster than other parts of the state, and several restaurants began reopening for dine-in services this week, logging customer info as part of the effort. The Weinhard Cafe in Dayton, Washington, was among the first in the state to resume seating in a limited capacity, and joked on Facebook, “We are open for sit down lunch now from 11-3 wed.-fri. You just have to give us your first born child first and social security number. (Kidding).”

Despite the mixed messages, many restaurants will likely welcome the flexibility this revision now offers, as most of the state is still preparing for phase two, and wondering what reopening restaurants might look like.

“We are thankful that the governor’s office has been open and flexible with the restaurant reopening requirements,” says Anthony Anton of the Washington Hospitality Association. “We’re all in uncharted territory, and we’re going to need continued flexibility and solutions as we work to keep our employees and guests safe and bring our businesses back to life.”