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Why some restaurants could still struggle if state relaxes indoor dining cap

(Streamline Tavern, Facebook)

Washington restaurants and bars got good news when the state allowed them to reopen indoor seating at 25%. And while continuing to increase that cap would be an added relief for many, it may not actually move the needle for smaller businesses.

KIRO Nights host Mike Lewis owns Streamline Tavern in Seattle’s Lower Queen Anne neighborhood, and for a bar like his with limited seating capacity, having the state increase its cap on capacity wouldn’t add much more in the way of seating.

“The 25% thing is really kind of a misnomer,” Mike told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “What we really worry about is the spacing, so we can’t get to [the limit] at our current spacing right now. Any place that’s configured and small like ours, you can’t mathematically get to 50%.”

That means in order to keep customers safely spaced out as mandated by existing COVID rules, smaller bars, restaurants, cafes, and coffee shops don’t have the square footage to add more people, even if the allowed capacity gets increased by the state.

Why some Puget Sound restaurants aren’t opening indoor dining

Or put more simply, “Phase 3 is going to be the same as Phase 2,” Mike described.

“‘Phase Normal’ is really the thing that’s going to start turning it back into a place that actually generates the money to sustain itself,” he added.

That’s not to say that being able to bring back customers in a nominal capacity hasn’t been helpful.

“We weren’t given a choice, and so what we can do is the best we can do,” Mike said. “I’m hoping that with this little step forward, we can just limp along like this until we get to a better place. That’s what we’re going to do because it’s not just us — it’s thousands of employees and the hundreds of businesses just in our area that are really struggling right now.”

The good news is that case rates, hospitalizations, and COVID deaths have all trended down in recent weeks, all while vaccine distribution has gradually begun to ramp up.

The hope from many businesses is that those trends will continue moving in the right directions, and that restaurants and bars will finally be able to stop fluctuating between opening and closing.

“My hope is that we’re turning a corner,” Mike said. “Maybe way out in the distance there, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s kind of what I’m focusing on.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here. You can listen to Mike Lewis on KIRO Nights from 7 – 10 p.m. on KIRO Radio. 

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