When dining rooms in Washington start to reopen in the coming months, restaurants will not be required to record customers’ contact information after all.
In a walk-back of a controversial component of the restaurant reopening guidance issued earlier this week, Gov. Jay Inslee’s office issued a statement on Friday evening “clarifying” that the state will not require customers to provide their contact information when they go out to eat.
Instead, businesses are asked to maintain a list of customers who voluntarily do so.
“We are asking visitors to voluntarily provide contact information in case of COVID-19 exposure. We only need information for one person per household. If we learn you may have been exposed to COVID-19 during your visit, the information will only be shared with public health officials,” Inslee’s news release said. “They will contact you to explain the risk, answer questions and provide resources. This information will not be used for any other purpose, including sales or marketing. If this list is not used within 30 days, it will be destroyed.”
Inslee had said Monday that businesses were required to collect the name, contact information and time of visit for every diner who entered their premises. This, the initial guidelines stated, was to aid in contact tracing should any patron test positive for coronavirus. Restaurants that wanted to move to the second phase of the governor’s four-phase plan to reopen the state — allowing them to open their dining rooms at 50% capacity — were required to maintain those records for a month.
That data collection requirement caused an uproar this week, at a time when the governor wanted to focus on his four-phase plan to restart the economy.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Washington criticized the data gathering as a risk “ to people’s fundamental rights to privacy and association.”
Many restaurant owners were also skeptical of the requirement.
Eric Banh who owns the critically acclaimed Ba Bar and Monsoon restaurants, worried that his staff would have to deal with customers who refuse to disclose personal data or who might turn belligerent if the host logs their visits. Likewise, in Skamania County, which has already been given the green light to move to the second phase and reopen their dining rooms, not all restaurants jumped on board, saying they worried about backlash.
To quell those fears, Inslee issued a statement Friday night, saying “I am no longer requiring customers to provide a business with contact information, and businesses should not condition service on a customer’s unwillingness to do so.”
The restaurant industry has been one of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 120,000 hospitality workers filing for unemployment benefits statewide, according to the Washington Hospitality Association.
In Western Washington, the restaurant industry is a major economic engine. In King County alone, restaurants and bars accounted for 105,600 jobs and $6.3 billion in taxable revenues in 2019, according to King County.
A Seattle Times analysis of data from the state Employment Security Department (ESD) found that nearly every bartender in the state has filed for unemployment.
In hope of putting bars back in business, The Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board earlier this month allowed bars and other establishments with liquor licenses to sell cocktails to-go as long as food is purchased with the drink order.
According to Inslee’s plan, when King County is cleared to move to the second phase and Seattle-area restaurants reopen — perhaps as soon as early June — dining rooms can open at 50% capacity, and party sizes will be capped at five.