Under Phase 2, local restaurant owners have a choice: reopen with the uncertainty of making enough money with limited seating, or remain closed until Phase 3.
“The volume of business we may experience may be off what it was in the past,” said Mark Matthias, owner of Beaches. “It’s a complete unknown until we open.”
In other counties that have been approved and operating for weeks, most of the in-person-dining restaurants have reopened, said Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association. He said that “business has been good” for the establishments that did open.
For any restaurants that do open, the new restrictions can be similar to starting a new business, said Matthias.
For instance, reusable menus are banned, so many restaurants will use paper menus. Reusable condiment containers at tables will either be sanitized between use or the restaurant will offer single-use, disposable condiment packs.
Tables will be separated by 6 feet or a barrier, and the building is required to have no more than 50 percent occupancy. Outdoor seating doesn’t count toward the occupancy restriction.
Servers will wear masks, and it’s strongly encouraged that guests do too until they’re seated.
Anton said the biggest challenges for restaurants in other counties under Phase 2 has been lobby management.
“Once the guests are seated, the standards are controlled,” he said, “but until then restaurants might ask guests to stay in their cars.”
Even being able to serve sit-down dinners is no panacea. For every month the average restaurant is closed, it takes away three months’ of normal profits, Anton said. Restaurants typically have a 4 percent margin and 12 percent fixed cost whether they’re closed or not.
“The reason that the tone has changed for operators in the last two or three weeks: This mountain of debt is getting really high,” he said. “We’ve been closed for three months, roughly. That means nine more months of no (net) income. That means a year of no (net) income.”
Of the 13,000 restaurants in the state, an estimated half were able to remain open for takeout and delivery during the stay-at-home order, he said.
It’s likely more restaurants are going to close permanently even under Phase 2 and beyond, he said.