As restaurants face the brunt of COVID-19 restrictions, they must be ready to adapt at any moment. Luckily, it’s becoming second nature for restaurants to adapt to the constantly fluctuating guidelines.
Current restrictions in Phase 2 of the Washington Roadmap to Recovery plan allow for indoor dining. However, no bar seating is permitted, parties (even from within the same household) have to be five or less and indoor capacity must be capped at 25%.
With all phases, there must be hand sanitizer available for staff and customers, everything on the table must be disinfected after every use and social distancing must be maintained between tables. Menus and condiments must be either single-use or sanitized after each use and restaurants must have their social-distance protocol posted for customers to see.
Abby Groh, a server at Twigs Bistro and Martini Bar, has worked there since before the pandemic and was one of three waitresses along with two managers that worked throughout the original shutdown.
“It’s become a lot to handle but it’s gotten more natural to just adjust and go with the flow,” Groh said.
As a server, Groh’s whole flow of waiting tables has changed. Servers must sanitize or wash their hands in between seeing each table, so they cannot go from one table immediately to the next. Servers also cannot serve food or drinks to multiple tables in the same round, making the wait time for getting food longer. Gloves are required for doing certain tasks such as rolling silverware and must be disposed of and changed after use.
“Being at only 25% capacity means a lot of unhappy customers were being turned away or put on a waitlist,” Groh said.
Even with added restrictions, being open for indoor seating is still better than only being able to do takeout. While Twigs had a high takeout volume into the first Phase 2, surviving on solely takeout is near impossible for most dine-in restaurants.
“With takeout, we were never breaking even,” Groh said.
As of now, if Washington returns to Phase 1, Twigs will close until dine-in is reintroduced, as it is impractical for them to stay open on solely takeout.
For Brian Dickmann, owner of Pizza Rita, the guidelines have not changed much for his business. Before the pandemic, Pizza Rita was 70% delivery, 25% takeout and about 5% dine in. For Dickmann, the harder part of the pandemic have been the scheduling issues that arise when an employee is exposed to COVID-19.
Washington has made adjustments to help restaurants survive the changing regulations, including relaxed liquor laws. Originally, liquor could not be sold as take-out and must be consumed within the restaurant’s limits. Restaurants adjusted to this by selling martini kits and special mixes, but the demand was not the same. New laws now allow for drinks to be taken to-go, but they must be in closed containers and not consumed while driving.
Washington also offered a grant to help businesses bring employees back to work but it required that your employees be working an average of the same number of hours they were working pre-shutdown.
For Twigs, this meant bringing back around 30 servers with only 25% capacity.
“Trying to have that many people working meant that people would have one table at a time,” Groh said.
Restaurants do not get alerted before a new phase is announced. For Twigs, the managers do a lot of listening to the news and staying caught up on Gov. Jay Inslee’s updates. They also watched how counties around Spokane were moving and what regulations were placed on them when they reached certain case numbers.
“We find out at the same time as everyone else, with the information age we’re in everyone hears things at the same time,” Dickmann said. “And anyone who says they don’t know definitely knows.”
While it is imperative that restaurants follow guidelines, Dickmann reminds customers to be patient with restaurants. Keeping up with Gov. Inslee’s updates is tough and they are adjusting as fast as they can.
“The thing about [right now] is everybody always says ‘oh they did this wrong, they did that wrong’ but it’s their first pandemic,” Dickmann said. “It’s everyone’s first pandemic, so just do what they tell you to do.”