When Ray’s Boathouse opened nearly 50 years ago, Seattle wasn’t known for its thriving food scene. Over the decades, our restaurant has worked with many others to help build Seattle — and Washington — into a nationally recognized culinary destination with everything from food carts to fine dining.
Coronavirus threatens to undo so much of that. At this time last year, the restaurant industry employed more than 340,000 people in the state. As of the latest numbers, 106,000 of those team members are no longer working. Hundreds of restaurants across the state have either closed permanently, closed for the season, or scaled their operations back to a skeleton crew. And in Seattle, we’ve seen some of our iconic restaurants close.
The hardest hit have been independent restaurants and fine dining. Drive-thru and quick service restaurants were better able to serve customers under COVID-19 guidelines, while sit-down restaurants have been at a fraction of their capacity.
Many of us know we won’t make it through the winter without significant changes.
Gov. Jay Inslee recently announced some changes that will help restaurants like mine. Critically, the requirement that guests must live in the same household to be seated together is lifted. Additionally, we can now seat six people at a table rather than five, which is a huge help for keeping larger families seated together. And we can stay open an extra hour.
That the governor felt confident making these changes speaks volumes to the stringent health and safety practices at restaurants. And while these measures will be helpful for many struggling restaurants, we also need everyone to continue wearing masks, practicing physical distancing and washing their hands. We can only reduce the spread of COVID-19 — and safely return to something closer to normal — if we work together.
We have only to look to New York to see what could happen if we don’t stay vigilant. After getting skyrocketing COVID-19 cases under control, they enjoyed a summer with lower case counts. Now, cases are climbing again, and businesses face a new wave of shutdowns.
If we follow their path, it doesn’t just hurt restaurants. It hurts kids who can’t go back to school, parents who can’t return to work and seniors who can’t visit their families. And it hurts our state’s recovery: In normal times, restaurants put 96 cents of every dollar right back into the local economy. At Ray’s, that means 96 cents of every dollar on your bill goes to area farmers, fishers, suppliers and restaurant staff — as well as rent and utilities, of course.
Seattle may be known for our tech economy, but our tourism, hospitality and restaurants are also a huge economic driver. Any recovery of our state will include a strong recovery of these industries.
We all want to return to some level of normalcy. Let’s work to get there together.