On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee revealed more details about Washington’s plan to reopen the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic — and it included some major modifications to the way restaurants normally operate. During “phase two” of the plan, which would be implemented at least three weeks after “phase one” officially begins May 5, restaurants would be allowed to have dine-in service again, but only at 50 percent capacity or less, and tables could not have more than five people. This would be similar to restrictions that other states are considering or have already implemented, and it’s one that could hurt an already suffering industry. In phase three, restaurants could have 75 percent capacity, and bars could reopen at 25 percent capacity. Only in phase four, likely months from now, could all establishments be open at full capacity.
Eater Seattle asked several chefs and owners over the weekend on what they thought of this plan, and whether they would reopen at a reduced capacity when allowed. Though the situation varied by restaurant type, the general consensus was that there’s no big rush to fling open their doors, especially if the general public will still be wary about dining out. Takeout services already in place would likely continue. And even those planning to reopen for dine-in service will do so only if conditions seem absolutely right. There are also understandable concerns about the devastating economic impact COVID-19 will continue to have on the industry, and what guidelines will be put in place to make sure staff and diners are safe. Here are some of their thoughts.
For now, I am not planning to reopen Adana for dine-in services right away. The restaurant size is too awkward to try to reopen at 50 percent with the right kind of service expected and not lose money on the awkwardly high percentage on everything that affects the bottom line. But COVID took my grand opening for Taku, and I am planning to start adding life back into the loud part of the hill. So I’m putting all my efforts now there.
I’ll only reopen [for dine-in service] if all my expenses are 75 percent off, 100 percent of rent is free and 100 percent of my staff is comfortable with coming back with the understanding that they would be at 50 percent the hours they were at before. Simple math, right?
Jennifer Petty, co-owner of Queen Anne fine-dining establishment Eden Hill
We may reopen Eden Hill Provisions during phase two, but can’t envision reopening Eden Hill Restaurant at 50 percent capacity. We rely so heavily on it being full on Fridays and Saturdays for at least one turn to be profitable; the remainder of the week is break even at best. Without compromising the experience or drastically changing the concept, we don’t see it working.
Melissa Miranda, chef and owner of hot new Beacon Hill Filipino restaurant Musang
We are planning on doing takeout for at least three months. It’s too early in my opinion to allow folks into restaurant spaces, and without the necessary safety protocol set for other people, I personally don’t feel safe yet allowing people into our space, and putting our staff and their families at risk. Our goal is to introduce a phase two of our own in August or September as a throwback to our pop-up days. Loosely, this is what we’ve thought: two seatings, 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., no more than parties of four. Reservation only, temperature checks at the door, and some sort of waiver/questionnaire for guests.
We’ll offer a pre-set menu and a set menu price, while also offering takeout. We have converted the side entrance as a pickup window and our bar area will be only accessible for our staff. Our staff will escort guests to the bathroom for them to wash hands. We will also provide hand sanitizers on site, obviously. All staff will be masked and gloves and there will be a requirement of sanitizing surfaces and hand washing hourly with sign-out sheets. Bathrooms as well will be sanitized and all door knobs will be sprayed too. We will provide guests with gloves if requested. We’ve been researching models in Asia and how they’ve reopened. It may seem a little restrictive, but it is the way we will operate until we feel it is in our best judgment to reopen. We also will be continuing our Community Kitchen Sunday through Tuesday for the foreseeable future in partnership with the Seattle Community Kitchen Collective, which we are partners with.
Alia Zaine, co-owner of the critically-lauded Frelard fine-dining restaurant Tarsan i Jane; husband Perfecte Rocher is the chef
We have decided to continue offering our takeaway experiences during phase two, simply because we cannot operate at half capacity. Tarsan i Jane is a passion project. It was our intention to offer the best experience to our guests without considering normal restaurant profit margins, which, as you know, are very slim. Most restaurants try to expand, but we went from 65 seats to a 10-seat chef’s table with a private dining room available to accommodate four guests. The numbers were challenging before, but we made it work. We wish we could work some magic to make them work at half capacity, but they simply do not. We still need to consider what to do when restaurants are allowed to open at full capacity. Our fear is, what if this returns next winter? Will all of this repeat itself?
Mutsuko Soma, chef and owner of Fremont’s Japanese soba destination Kamonegi
We have to open for takeout and dine-in and maximize our revenue to keep our doors open. I don’t think we have a choice. The menu we are planning for dining in may incorporate more of an omakase style, so guests will be able to have an intimate dining experience. I have to incorporate a seating limit as well, so we can seat fewer people at more rotations. It will be a lot of work for less money with less staff, but anything to keep our doors open and keep our staff supported at this time we will do.
I think the plan is to build up the takeout programs, and maybe add a table or two at most at some spots. Bar Taglio could become a slice joint. We could reopen Bruciato and space out some tables. The banquettes and booths should be okay, and maybe we could install dividers. No matter what, we’ll take it real easy. A Payroll Protection Program loan came through and we were able to hire some people back. But we need to not just look at the next few months, but also the next 18 months. What will things look like?
I don’t anticipate a flood of people coming out, even once dine-in services resume, so takeout at Lark will likely continue. We have an older clientele, who might be considered an “at-risk” group, and they’ve adjusted pretty well to our new offerings. The tricky part is that the experience of our restaurant relies on ambience and attentive service. What does that look like with restrictions? Is the staff masked up? Also, restaurants shouldn’t be the primary regulatory body for public health. That should fall to the government or health department to provide specific guidelines. We’re in the hospitality industry. If we have to turn people away and refuse service, that goes against what we do. So we’d like some more direction — it shouldn’t fall on our shoulders to police things.
Trinh Nyguyen, co-owner of the new modern Vietnamese restaurant Ba Sa on Bainbridge Island
There’s so much uncertainty, it’s been driving me crazy. We’ve converted to takeout and have been blessed to have the support of the community, but sales are nowhere near what they used to be. And since we’ve been open for less than a year, it’s been difficult to get a PPP loan. We probably will reopen for dine-in services, when allowed and with strict precautions. We have an outdoor patio that might be useful for this, and we’ve been playing around with seating arrangements. Our concern is that there’s not enough PPE inventory, like gloves and masks. What will be the costs for that? Where will we get the material? We’re excited to at least do something, but we’re worried about what comes next. We have to at least try.
Chris Cvetkovich, co-owner of the globally-influenced Capitol Hill restaurant Nue
It may be another year until we all get back to what was considered normal. So we’ll be playing it very cautiously. I think we’re opening too early, even in Washington. And we have to look at the state of the economy when things do reopen — not all diners are going to be able to afford to go out in the ways they were before. Takeout at Nue will continue, but we will always reevaluate what we’re serving, what dishes are selling, what makes the most sense.