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Restaurants face challenges despite the return of dine-in seating

Some guests are 'not too thrilled' about the COVID-19 requirements

Series: Coronavirus | Story 134

Last updated 7/10/2020 at 9:52am

Beacon photo by Christopher Kim

Customers dine on the outdoor tables of Tablas Woodstone Taverna. It is one of the restaurants in the Mill Creek Town Center offering dine-in services since the initiation of Phase 2 of Gov. Inslee's reopening plan but must adhere to guidelines in screening staff before shifts and mandating face masks for both workers and customers

Mill Creek's restaurants are slowly returning to regular dine-in operations with the recent transition into Phase 2 of Gov. Inslee's reopening plan, along with many others in Snohomish County.

One of the challenges that has presented itself for these businesses is keeping staff and customers safe and healthy. The County was approved for Phase 2 on June 5 and has since lifted some restrictions in areas of businesses, recreation, and travel. Many restaurants have begun serving customers for dine-in seating.

"The first week started off really strong, but with the recent spike in cases, people have stepped back and business has dwindled a bit these last couple weeks," Logan May, the general manager of the Mill Creek Boston's Pizza, said. "But overall, business has been okay."

The restaurant/bar, which had been closed for the past year and a half, was originally set to reopen mid-March but was delayed because of COVID-19. It opened instead on May 4 for takeout only and since June 8, has been a popular spot for dine-in.

There are still rules in place to ensure progress in slowing the spread of COVID-19 isn't reversed with another outbreak.

For one, the recent statewide mandate that requires businesses to refuse service to customers not wearing face masks, that went into effect July 7, was made in response to a recent surge of COVID-19 cases around the state.

"We have to sanitize restrooms and door handles every hour," May said. "We're taking extra precautions, always wearing masks and taking all the employees' temperatures every morning when they get here."

Notices about the face masks requirement and social distancing guidelines are posted on the doors of many eating establishments, along with signs advising recently sick customers to order takeout along with the business' right to refuse service to non-compliant customers.

Restaurants that are open for regular dine-in during Phase 2 have had to reinvent themselves during the particularly difficult season to accommodate the new rules.

"It's a very unique and tricky time we're living," May said. The restaurants have found some success during the summer weather."

"At first business was slow to start, but since then, we have definitely picked up more in business as it has gotten nicer out," Amy Peterson, the general manager of the Tablas Woodstone Taverna, said.

"We're doing everything to the standard of making sure that everyone is kept safe, wearing masks and extra cleaning, and I have noticed that we are steadily making more with dine-in service."

"With the pandemic still going on, I feel that people are still hesitant to come out which I can totally understand," she added.

Business with to-go orders has been pretty steady and consistent, Peterson said, with most people still being very wary of dine-in service. With the recent news of increasing COVID-19 cases, there is a risk of the county reverting back to Phase 1, which would significantly impact restaurants that had just started reopening dine-in services.

"I want all my customers and employees to be completely safe," Peterson said. "So if we do have to roll back to Phase 1, then we are just going to continue doing everything that we need to to make sure that everyone is safe."

"We have had little bits of pushback from customers, but obviously we are doing everything to standard and are regulating everything," she said.

The Lodge Sports Grille in Mill Creek Town Center, which had opened for dine-in June 17, still "lacks that bar atmosphere" with restrictions on bar-top seating and social distancing, according to Rachel Palko, the regional operations manager of The Lodge Acquisitions.

"But it makes for a better, safe, controlled environment during this period," Palko said.

The most prevalent challenge that dining establishments have had to face is a backlash against the mandate of facemasks in public spaces.

"It's easy to get our staff to follow policy with the mandated mask rules but some guests are not too thrilled about it," Palko said, "Staying on top of that with them has presented its own challenges."

"We have to follow these rules and need customers to just be understanding and helpful throughout the processes because we are doing the best that we can," Peterson said.


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