Restaurant and bar owners urge Gov. Inslee to extend operating hours

When it comes to restaurants and bars in the region, in some cases it's getting close to closing time, permanently.

In an effort to give restaurants a fighting chance, 130 restaurant and bar owners have signed onto a letter explaining why extending last call is desperately needed. 

Right now, last call at most restaurants is at 10 p.m. because of state COVID-19 restrictions. While many owners said they agree with social distancing and sanitization guidelines, some argue their best chance to stay afloat is during the evening hours.

Dan Austin is the owner of Peel and Press in West Seattle and The Flight Path in Burien.

Both locations have followed state protocols for eating establishments, even opening up an outdoor patio. But with the expected rainy season just weeks away, owners are asking for Governor Inslee to allow restaurants and bars to go back to their original closing time, which is sometimes 2 a.m.

According to Austin, even allowing restaurants and bars to remain open to midnight gives them a chance to stay in business. 

"For a bar, we normally would be a good evening business. So between 9:00 p.m. to midnight, or 9:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m., taking that away reduces another 30% off our revenue," said Austin. "So when you take away almost 80% of a businesses revenue, but your lease is the same, their insurance requirement is the same, the cost of labor is the same, less hours but still you've got to pay for them, food costs are going up because supply chains are struggling right now, so food costs are going up, it's a recipe for shutting down shortly."

The letter gives real world examples on what happens when closing time is announced at 9:35 p.m. An excerpt from the letter said:

"We then proceed to listen to people get upset and question the policy like I personally am the one who created it. That lasts about 5 minutes and then everyone starts game planning who’s (sp) house they are going to after we close. This is the part that is of grave concern to all of us. When someone is at my establishment, they must follow all protocols, or they are removed from the premise.  I have 2-3 staff policing the environment and we achieve compliance with minimal to no issues. Clearly after-hours gatherings happening around a bonfire or in a house are meeting nearly none of the requirements."

The letter also asks Governor Inslee to allow gaming like darts, billiards and video games to be reinstated. Austin says many of the owners want the governor to trust that they will adhere to the social distancing and sanitization guidelines, even late at night.

"I haven't been able to find any data yet, and i don't want to sound flippant on this, but that the coronavirus picks up its veracity after 10 p.m.," said Austin.

Despite the best efforts of those 130 restaurant and bar owners, it doesn't appear the governor's office will be changing course anytime soon.  

A statement from a Governor's spokesperson said:

"We’ve been engaged with restaurant owners in several ways including: weekly meetings with the WA Hospitality Association, several meetings with a group of restaurateurs and legislators in the Clark Co. area, and un upcoming meeting with City of Tacoma elected officials and restaurant owners. The purpose of all these engagements is to hear from them about potential changes to our current guidance with the goal of allowing restaurants more opportunities to 'make it' in this new environment while maintaining public health and safety. We understand the struggles restaurants and bars face and we hope to do everything we can to help them continue to operate safely. Regarding the specific 10:00 p.m. cutoff, we have heard repeatedly from local health departments and local law enforcement about the positive impact this change has had on social gatherings that lead to COVID transmission. We have nothing in the works at the moment to revert it."

Meanwhile, Austin said if things don't change soon, he may have to consider closing his restaurants for good in the next four to six weeks. 

"We're in an urgency. A lot of the restaurants and bars I've spoken with, the Payroll Protection money had got us to here, I'd like to say, they threw us a life ring with that. But we're still stuck in the middle of the ocean. We haven't got back to shore yet.  We're running out of money. There's nothing coming from the federal government," he said.