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Seattle Restaurants May Soon Open for Limited Indoor Dining, in Addition to Outdoor Seating

King County’s application for a variance to the state’s reopening plan now includes restaurant dining rooms opening at 25 percent capacity

An empty table at a restaurant with wine glasses and menus
Seattle dining rooms have been closed since Washington’s stay-at-home order was implemented in mid-March.

On Wednesday, King County officially submitted an application to the state to reopen certain business activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the new guidelines, Seattle restaurant dining rooms would be able to reopen at 25 percent capacity and outdoor seating would reopen at 50 percent capacity. The state still needs to approve the measures, and that can take up to three days after the application is submitted.

Late last week, King County had already announced plans to submit the variance application to the state’s “Safe Start” reopening plan, but at the time, only the outdoor seating rule was listed in the proposed guidelines — the limited indoor seating allowance is new.

For those following Washington’s somewhat nebulous four-phased plan to reopen the economy, Seattle is currently in phase one, in which restaurants and bars can only offer takeout and delivery. It has not yet met certain COVID-19 benchmarks to enter phase two, which would allow 50 percent dining room capacity if restaurants adhere to a set of additional guidelines, including eliminating bar seating and distributing single-use menus. In phase three, restaurants can reopen at 75 percent capacity and bars at 25 percent. Phase four allows restaurants and bars to fully reopen. Each phase is meant to be separated by at least three weeks to evaluate data around the spread of COVID-19.

However, Gov. Jay Inslee announced last week that counties can apply to certain variances, which he referred to as “phase 1.5,” in which certain specific business restrictions could be relaxed. In this case, that means dining rooms opening at 25 percent capacity and outdoor seating at 50 percent capacity. Other exceptions in King County’s new “phase 1.5” application include personal and professional services opening at 25 percent of building occupancy, and the resumption of additional construction projects.

Even when and if the new application is approved, it’s doubtful that restaurants in Seattle will rush to resume dine-in services. Several restaurateurs and chefs have already expressed some trepidation on opening at even half capacity, let alone 25 percent capacity. The new guidelines likely won’t change that sentiment.