For the first time in three months, residents in several of western Washington’s most populous counties can dine out again, but you might not be able to score a table or even find a restaurant opening in your neighborhood.
Some diners and corner haunts are too small to open with the crowd restrictions in place, their owners said. As for those that have large outdoor patios and sidewalk seating? Good luck snagging a table. You’d better make a reservation or prepare to wait in line.
On Friday, the state Health Department advanced 14 counties into phases of the Safe Start plan that allow restaurants to reopen — albeit with restrictions depending on the area. In King County, restaurants can offer indoor dining at 25% of capacity and outdoor dining at 50% capacity under “modified Phase 1.” Pierce and Snohomish counties, as well as Clark, Okanogan, Skagit and Whatcom counties can move to Phase 2 of reopening, which allows restaurants to offer indoor dining at half capacity.
More than a dozen veteran restaurateurs said Friday that most small restaurants around King County with less than 40 seats likely won’t reopen since the economic arithmetic doesn’t add up due to limited seating and the high cost of staffing. Your best bet to shed cabin fever in Seattle is to find a large restaurant with outdoor seating.
What might be Seattle’s biggest deck — that of Ivar’s Salmon House on northern Lake Union, with 225 seats — will reopen at 50% capacity on Monday, according to company president Bob Donegan. Inside seating will open as allowed at 25%, with a capacity of 90 instead of the normal 369.
Donegan said he’s been tracking data from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, looking at data state by state as some restaurants have reopened across the country. Dining at the Salmon House will involve a front-door hand-sanitizing station, with more sanitizing available at the tables; masked servers and encouragement of patrons’ masking up, except when eating or drinking; single-use paper menus; and condiment packets, rather than salt and pepper shakers and the like. Staff, Donegan said, have been trained with a seven-page operating manual, and one person will be devoted entirely to wiping down public areas — railings, doors, chairs and restrooms.
All Ivar’s seafood bars and the company’s Kidd Valley locations, which have been doing takeout and delivery, will reopen inside seating at 25% capacity on Monday as well.
Ivar’s Mukilteo, in Snohomish County, is also tentatively set to open Monday, under the 50% capacity inside-and-out that Phase 2 now allows there.
In South Lake Union, restaurateur Wassef Haroun plans to reopen his upscale rooftop place, Mbar, next Thursday, with the capacity to accommodate 60 to 80 people at a time by reservation only — but only outside, as the indoor seating there is “not a priority now.” His Capitol Hill restaurant, Mamnoon, will reopen soon at 25% capacity inside with 36 seats available, plus another 10 outside at the allowed 50% capacity.
Owner Dan Bugge will reopen his scenic patio The White Swan Public House on Lake Union (about 40 seats). But his smaller places, Matt’s in the Market and Radiator Whiskey at Pike Place Market, will stay closed. He’s offering a menu featuring greatest hits from his three restaurants at White Swan, including Matt’s in the Market’s fish sandwich and Radiator Whiskey’s braised brisket. Even when the White Swan was just doing takeout, the restaurant drew large crowds since customers just used the benches and park to hold picnics he said. He expects record crowds this weekend if the weather holds up.
Rich Fox, the CEO of Weimann-Maclise Restaurants, plans to reopen four of his 10 Seattle-area restaurants including the Rhein Haus (seating 100) in Seattle and in Tacoma (seating 125), Poquitos (seating 55) in Bothell and Seaplane Kitchen & Bar (seating 60) in Kenmore. Fox is negotiating with the city of Kenmore to add about 10 more tables outside in public space.
Fremont Brewing will also reopen Saturday with capacity to fit 50 in its beer garden and another 25 indoors.
“We made lots of physical changes to the Urban Beer Garden to ensure social distancing, such as installing booths that can fit up to 5 people, converting the bathrooms to be 100% touch-free, along with buying a ton of hand sanitizer and face masks,” said Matt Lincecum, CEO of Fremont Brewing. “We’re moving to hosted seating where our host will greet the party and show them to a table. Every party is limited to 5 people or less. Instead of reservations, just show up and put your name on the list and we’ll text you when a table is ready.”
In Edmonds, Shubert Ho, owner of the Feed Me Hospitality restaurant group, says the phones at his restaurants “have not stopped ringing” since the announcement that Snohomish County is moving to Phase 2.
His restaurant The MAR•KET will open Friday for patio seating, while Bar Dojo and Salt-n-Iron hope to reopen with indoor seating early next week.
“It really depends on whether we can get the people we need rehired, we’re trying to aim for a very methodical opening” Ho said.
Ho says they have created 6-foot non-permeable rolling barriers to give diners a booth-like feel and a bit more room to feel safe. These barriers will be in place at Salt-n-Iron and on the patio at The MAR•KET. The size of Bar Dojo means there will be four tables at 50% capacity with enough room to spread out. Ho says they will also continue to offer take-out at Bar Dojo.
Once his dining rooms reopen, Ho recommends people make advance reservations. “We don’t want people to come in and be disappointed if they have to wait, we want them prepared,” he says.
However, amid all the reopening fervor, one major Seattle restaurateur is not leaping in. Ethan Stowell will “probably do a few [reopenings of seating under modified Phase 1] in the next couple weeks.” Out of his 15 restaurants, seven are currently operating for to-go and delivery, and he anticipates “phasing in [seating at] the locations we do have open to see if people want it” — possibly starting with Tavolata Capitol Hill and Madrona’s Red Cow. But, he says, it might be just counter service at the outset. “You’re kind of in this awkward spot,” he notes, “where you don’t know how much business you’ll have or how to staff… There’s no playbook for what anybody’s going through right now.”
Jeremy Price, co-owner of the Sea Creatures family of restaurants along with chef Renee Erickson, wrote via text message that “we are looking to Phase 3 or beyond before reopening dining rooms. Most of our restaurants are very small. The six foot social distance made is far more limiting than the occupancy percentage and this distancing requirement spans all of the governor’s phases.”
They will, however, reopen Wallingford’s Westward for to-go next week, pending inspections, with a plan to “build up to seating [on] the patio.”
The popular lakefront restaurant has been closed for remodel since last November. A number of other Sea Creatures restaurants, including General Porpoise Donuts, Bateau, Wilmott’s Ghost and The Whale Wins have been open for take-out during the dining room shut down.
In downtown Edmonds, Kali Kelnero, co-owner of craft cocktail bar Kelnero, plans to start moving forward, but is also wary of moving too quickly.
“What’s two days compared to the three months we’ve already had to wait,” she says.
The bar has an outdoor patio and will begin welcoming patrons Friday night. It also plans to open seating in the rear of the restaurant pending an amended liquor license, which will take a few weeks.
Despite the move to Phase 2, Kelnero says she’s not sure she “feels great about opening up our indoor seating,” so outside of patrons needing to use the restrooms, the indoor seating at Kelnero will remain closed. Additionally, Kelnero says they will keep offering their take-out menu for the time being.