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Inslee Orders Bars to Close for Indoor Service and Restricts Inside Tables at Restaurants to Members of Same Household

People who are not part of the same household can still eat together outside at restaurants

An empty cocktail glass at a bar
Bars in Washington must now close for indoor dining, but can still serve people outside.

On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced that Washington’s “Safe Start” plan would start reimposing certain restrictions due to the continued rise of COVID-19 cases in the state. Most significantly for Seattle’s dining industry, bars, breweries, taverns, and wineries will now need to close for indoor service (whether they serve food or not), indoor dine-in for tables at restaurants will be limited to members of the same household, and restaurants must close down any game areas (like pool and darts). Alcohol service will also be cutoff at 10 p.m. for all restaurants and bars. This new order will go into effect July 30 and there’s no expiration date set at this point.

Seattle is currently in phase two of the state’s reopening roadmap, which allowed for indoor and outdoor seating at 50 percent capacity. In the original rules for this phase, bars, breweries, and taprooms could serve customers inside if they had a full food menu and table service. But now that will be restricted, beginning next week.

When asked why there were more severe restrictions imposed on bars than restaurants, Inslee said “there’s a social behavior associated with alcohol that’s different than carbohydrates,” noting that other states, such as Arizona, have tried similar measures with some success.

Drinking establishments can still have outdoor dining and continue with takeout, including to-go cocktails. As far as what defines a “bar” — since many cocktail dens, taverns, and beer bars also have restaurant licenses in Washington — Mike Faulk, the governor’s deputy communications director, says those details are “still being finalized and we’ll share them with stakeholders and the public as soon as possible.”

For restaurants, people from different households cannot be served inside at the same table; they can only be served in outdoor seating arrangements, which has recently been expanded in Seattle. It’s unclear how this distinction would be enforced, though. “There will be an expectation restaurants — say, a host or hostess — ask customers if they are in the same household, but verification is not required,” says Faulk.

Meanwhile, Inslee also announced that counties in the third phase of the four-part “Safe Start” plan will need to roll back some allowances as well: restaurant table sizes in those areas must be reduced to five people, and indoor occupancy must go back down to 50 percent from 75 percent. Thus far, Seattle’s advancement to that phase has been put on pause — though it seems it wouldn’t matter for restaurants if the city entered it anyway, with these new restrictions in place.

In his press conference, Inslee said that limiting interaction with people outside one’s household in enclosed spaces should help mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. Washington’s mask mandate has helped in many areas, but the statewide trends still look troubling. To date, there have been 51,451 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Washington and 1,534 deaths.

There’s also the matter of how these new restrictions will affect the outlook for restaurants and bars, who have been struggling economically throughout the pandemic. Inslee said “it’s possible” that there will be some additional state relief for small businesses coming down the pipeline, but it may on depend on what kind of COVID-related aid bill Congress ends up enacting within the next few weeks.

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