Details on the next phase of Washington’s reopening plan for restaurants is coming into greater focus. The state already announced that indoor dining would increase from 25 percent to 50 percent capacity, starting March 22. Now, the Department of Health (DOH) released further guidelines for restaurants and bars in Phase 3. Max table size allowances will increase from 6 to 10 people, and booze can be sold until midnight (the current cutoff for alcohol sales is 11 p.m.).
The new allowances also state that table sizes won’t have any household restrictions. In the current phase, there’s a maximum of two households per table for indoor service, although actually enforcing that rule is challenging at best. As Washingtonians might remember from last summer, parsing out which households were sitting where was confusing and impractical, and the state later abandoned such requirements, only to reinstate them later once the winter surge of COVID cases developed.
Now, after steadily loosening guidelines since early February, the reopening plan is the least restrictive it has been since the beginning of the pandemic. While the relaxed rules will no doubt boost the bottom lines for restaurants and bars, concerns over vaccinating workers remain. Starting Wednesday, March 17, Washington officially expands the vaccination pool to more eligible groups, including grocery store workers, those in the agriculture industry, and people who work at food processing plants.
But restaurant workers aren’t part of the plan, at the moment. When asked why they are excluded versus others in the food industry, a DOH spokesperson told Eater Seattle: “Restaurants are generally smaller and have alternative options to avoid congregation of customers, such as takeout and delivery options.”
That argument doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, though, considering that restaurants are on the verge of opening its doors to more customers, who will be eating food and drinking without masks on. It bears repeating that, even establishments that stick to takeout and delivery, often have small kitchens where it’s nearly impossible for workers to socially distance. Washington’s own health officer, Dr. Scott Linquist, recently told WBUR, “When we look at the second most common transmission in Washington state, it’s restaurants and bars.” Increased table sizes and later booze cutoffs add to the increased risks.