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A Majority of Survey Respondents Say They’re Not Ready to Eat Inside Seattle Restaurants Yet

According to Eater Seattle’s recent COVID-19-related dining out survey, most people have expressed caution

The dining room at El Camino in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, with a handful of diners
El Camino in Fremont opened for dine-in services this month.
Suzi Pratt

Seattle restaurants are resuming dine-in services — but not everyone is ready to return.

Two weeks ago, Eater Seattle conducted an audience survey about the reopening of dining rooms in the city (which is now at 50 percent capacity indoors), various safety measures (including masks), the addition of outdoor seating areas, and other matters related to COVID-19 pandemic. More than 2,300 readers answered questions in the survey — thank you! One of the key takeaways is that less than half of respondents said they feel comfortable dining in at a restaurant right now, and nearly a third of respondents said that they wouldn’t go out to eat until there was a vaccine or viable treatment for COVID-19.

This survey was conducted when Seattle was still in phase 1.5 of Washington’s “Safe Start” reopening plan, when indoor dining was still at 25 percent. That capacity has since increased, as King County was approved to move to phase two Friday. The breakdown of those willing to dine at a restaurant in either phase 1.5 or phase two was around 48 percent. The rest of the respondents wanted to wait.

Meanwhile, only around 34 percent of respondents said they would feel safe sitting inside at a restaurant, while the vast majority preferred outdoor seating, if they were going to go out to eat at all. About 46 percent said they would prefer tables to be spaced out even further than the state-mandated six feet of social distancing. A whopping 82.6 of readers said they would feel safer if Seattle implemented more outdoor seating areas around the city — an issue that has been discussed in detail, but hasn’t moved forward.

Another hot topic when it comes to COVID-19 measures has been face masks. Right now, King County has a directive that strongly recommends people wear face coverings in public, since there is ample evidence that they can help slow the spread of the coronavirus. But there is no law requiring retail customers to wear them — and nearly 70 percent of survey respondents said there should be a mask requirement for restaurant diners, at least when people aren’t actively eating and drinking. Nearly 90 percent said it would be completely fine for a restaurant to refuse service to someone not wearing a mask.

“It seems like although Seattle seems to be taking social distancing and wearing masks more seriously than other regions,” said one survey taker. “The amount of people not wearing masks is concerning.”

Said another, “Seattle restaurateurs must take the initiative and put diners’ health and safety first. Any diner who will not cooperate should be refused service, entry, and dismissed.”

Many readers also expressed a desire to know how restaurants were taking care of their staff during the pandemic, and what precautions they were taking to keep workers safe, healthy, and paid well. One said “knowledge that restaurant has generous sick day policy for restaurant employees” would help.

As far as other COVID-19 guidelines go, 80 percent of survey respondents said they would voluntarily submit their personal info for contact tracing. Other measures that proved popular were to have restaurants have enough ventilation and air flow throughout the space, provide ample hand sanitizer, and create clear social distance markings in areas where diners are waiting.

No matter what, though, the general theme was caution.

“Testing and contact tracing locally needs to be way up before I would go out to eat in a restaurant or drink in a bar,” said a respondent. “I’m fully prepared to not set foot inside a public restaurant/bar for the purpose of remaining longer than 10 minutes for the rest of 2020.”

Below are some more breakdowns of the survey questions.

The first response says “restaurant and its employees not taking proper precautions,” while the second response says, “being around other diners not in your party.”