Hospitality industry needs workers, patience as state reopens

Jun 29, 2021, 5:52 PM
coronavirus, restaurants, hospitality...
The Veggie Grill restaurant in Seattle. (Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)

About 16 months after the coronavirus pandemic began in Washington, the state is fully reopening on Wednesday.

The reopening means that the hospitality industry is no longer restricted by capacity rules. The shutdown in March 2020 left restaurants only able to serve patrons curbside, then with 25% capacity and strict social distancing rules, and finally 50% capacity.

Washington reopens on Wednesday, but what does that mean?

At least one restaurant in Washington defied the order. Spiffy’s owner in Chehalis told KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson he’d stay open, despite visits from L&I and the threat of fines. He faced nearly $150,000 in fines, and has been hit with a temporary restraining order.

Some L&I enforcement officers told KIRO Radio’s Gee & Ursula Show they received death threats, been cussed at, and even chased away from the restaurants when they show up to do their job and enforce the state’s COVID restrictions.

But that all comes to an end beginning on Wednesday when only large indoor events are under a 75% capacity rule if proof of vaccination is not required.

“Tomorrow is that day we talked about 16 months ago,” Anthony Antone, head of the Washington State Hospitality Association said in a Tuesday news conference. He added that the closures and capacity limits largely crippled his industry.

“The numbers for 2020, this came out from Department of Revenue last week … restaurants in the second three quarters of the year, restaurants were down 41%,” Antone said. He added that bars dropped 57.5% and hotels 61.3%.

But now the hospitality industry is looking for people to work.

“We lost almost our entire workforce over the course of a year, we’re still short 80,000 workers,” Antone said.

And it’s asking patrons to be patient.

“We show grace to the workers who are there,” Antone said. “They’re either learning a new job, or they’re working for two trying to welcome you back to Washington to moving us forward.”

The help wanted sign is out.

Timeline: A look back at Washington state’s COVID-19 response

“Getting out to see your favorite places in Washington this year will be huge because international travel and state-to-state travel is probably going to lag for a couple of years,” Antone said. “Our tourism effort is really going to be important to get our lodging locations back to normal.”

Anton said he was grateful for all of the to-go orders.

The KIRO Radio newsdesk contributed to this report.

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Hospitality industry needs workers, patience as state reopens