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Bowman: Giving a restaurant your email is literally the least you can do

Murals and paintings from local artists cover the side of businesses and restaurants in Seattle closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Meili Cady/KIRO Radio)

When Washington restaurants resume dine-in service in the weeks ahead, they’ll have to take down customer contact information in order to aid in tracing any new coronavirus cases. As for whether that’s feasible, restaurants don’t seem to be overly concerned, at least on their side of the equation.

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“I don’t see it causing any difficulties for me,” said Bill Henkens, owner of the Game Neighborhood Bar and Grill in Kirkland.

“I think keeping a record of information for guests will be necessary,” Ocea Davis, a bartender at another local restaurant, agreed. “The only additional information that would be required is an email address, which is a tiny inconvenience when you consider the pain that would come from a second wave of the virus.”

“It’s all feasible,” confirmed a veteran of the restaurant industry of 20 plus years who preferred to remain anonymous.

That said, there are concerns about how customers might respond to what some view as a violation of their privacy.

“I do see the possibility of a lot of customers not wanting to have any part of it,” Henkens said. “We’ll gather the information that the customer is willing to give to us, but beyond that, I can’t imagine we’ll be held accountable for whether that information is accurate or not.”

“Restaurants and restaurant workers will be able to adapt; guests, on the other hand, are going to be difficult,” the restaurant industry veteran opined.

That raises the question: Should we be willing to give out our personal information every time we dine out?

On one hand, it’s always going to raise eyebrows when the government requires you to give out your personal information. On the other, handing over your email address is also a relatively low bar to clear to allow health agencies to keep this outbreak under control as we start to leave our homes again.

South Korea’s own far more invasive measure for tracking cases recently saw city officials in Itaewon collecting location data from mobile phone providers to compile a list of almost 11,000 people who had attended several nightclubs where a flare-up of the virus had been spotted.

Attempts at similar phone-based systems haven’t been successful in the U.S., making Washington’s strategy the next best thing, especially as people get ready to gather together in enclosed spaces again.

Consequently, handing out your email address or phone number is also something many of us already do to make reservations, either through booking apps like Open Table, or over the phone with restaurants themselves.

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“Before the shutdown began, it was common to make reservations and leave contact info for the host,” Davis pointed out.

When this new policy rolls out, it will be crucial for customers to rest easy knowing that their contact info isn’t being misused. That said, restaurants everywhere are struggling right now. If this is what it takes to get people through their doors while keeping their staff (and customers) safe, an email address seems like a laughably small price to pay.

As for those who aren’t convinced, there’s always good old-fashioned home cooking.

“Quite frankly, if you don’t want to leave your information, feel free to continue cooking and drinking at home,” Davis said. “We have always reserved the right to refuse service to anyone, especially if it means keeping our staff and other customers safe.”

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