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Washington restaurants prepare for new challenges presented by dine-in rules

Restaurants in Washington have struggled throughout the closures brought on by the coronavirus. Soon, they’ll be able to resume dine-in service, which will come with a handful of new rules posing some unique obstacles.

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When dine-in service starts back up, restaurants will be limited to half capacity to help maintain physical distancing between customers. As for whether that’s feasible financially, some have remained hopeful.

“I see it as a challenge for sure, but it’s better than what we’re doing right now,” Bill Henkens, owner of the Game Neighborhood Bar and Grill in Kirkland, told MyNorthwest.

While remaining open for takeout service, Henkens says he’s filling roughly 80 to-go orders a day, a significant drop from the 250 or so daily customers he was serving before this crisis began.

Workers at other restaurants in Washington are similarly optimistic about the limits on capacity.

“I think the 50% capacity will do great,” said Heather, the general manager of a Spokane restaurant. “Especially with the increase of takeout/delivery, we are expecting to be back to 80-100% sales with limited seating.”

“50% capacity in my restaurant specifically is very doable,” agreed Sarah, a server at a local Seattle bar and grill.

But while some restaurants are confident in their ability to manage dine-in service serving fewer people at once, there are still other issues the policy presents when it comes to staffing.

“The hard part will be how to staff and keep labor,” Heather pointed out.

“It would be financial suicide for any server to take on a 50% capacity restaurant,” Sarah clarified. “If you are by yourself, you’re making all the money but running your butt off. If you have another server, you’re making very little money and still having to jump through hoops with the extra sanitizing.”

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That being so, Sarah warns that bringing back hourly workers could end up being too costly for some restaurants. She proposes instead using salaried managers to wait tables “until we get busy enough to really make a livable wage.”

That’s all part of a strategy that will need to be fluid and adaptable in the days ahead in order for many local establishments to survive.

“It’s cumbersome to say the least — it can be done, but the difficulty increases as we up the service vision,” a server at another Seattle restaurant noted.

“Having smaller crowds will ease that burden a bit,” he added. “Restaurants and workers will be able to adapt.”

Read more from MyNorthwest’s Nick Bowman here, and follow him on Twitter @NickNorthwest.

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