Spokane restaurants preparing for possible fast track to phase two

SPOKANE, Wash. — Governor Jay Inslee has given Spokane County the green light to apply to move to phase two faster. This means restaurants could potentially open up with restrictions laid out under his “Safe Start” plan. However, it may not be enough for some to survive.

Fast Eddie’s in downtown Spokane opened about two weeks ago. The owner has kept another business open during this shutdown. With phase two in the works, customers could be walking into all of his restaurants. Things will be different though.

“It’s going to change the dynamic a lot,” said Jeremy Tangen, owner of Fast Eddie’s, Borracho Tacos & Taquileria and Boombbox Pizza. “We have to stay in constant communication with our staff because the rules are changing so quick.”

Under phase two, restaurants can only have a 50% capacity. Outside seating is not included in the indoor 50% capacity seating, but the rule must still be followed outdoors. However, seating goes down because each table must be six feet from each other. A table can only have five people maximum.

“For us going through, it’s going to reduce our capacity down to — for Fast Eddie’s specifically, 81 people, but realistically with the spacing that we have to have between the tables and everything it’s going to be somewhere between 60 and hopefully up to 70,” Tangen said.

This makes it extremely difficult for places like Wild Dawgs, which has a smaller restaurant.

“It’s a small place anyways, so it makes it even smaller for us,” said store manager Aaron Schwartz. “50% isn’t going to really help many restaurants. You need to have 75 to 100% capacity to get those people in there to get the higher number.”

Schwartz said they may have to turn people away if family groups come in, which will take up at least two tables. Each one fits fours people.

Another guideline is the use of PPE among employees and they have to be at least six feet from other employees. A mask must be worn at all times. It’s encouraged for customers, too. Hand sanitizer must be available to all employees and customers, as long as supply is available.

At Tangen’s businesses, he’s implementing more safety guidelines himself.

“For us, we’re looking at going above and beyond by having touchless sinks, doors that will open with your foot rather than with your hand,” he said, “and then also hosting individuals at the front door — greeting them and explaining some of the different things things that they can expect when they come into the dining experience.”

Bar seating is still not allowed, which is a big hit for both businesses. At Fast Eddie’s, Tangen said it’s a good portion of his profits.

“On average, with those bar seats they are a lot more profitable than a seat at a table,” he explained. “Not having bar seating for us and our locations is something that not only affects our bottom line, but it affects our regulars, too.”

Some businesses may even have to spend more money. Tables can only be given single-use menus and condiments. If they put bottles on the table, they have to be sanitized after each table leaves.

Capacity though is the biggest issue for both establishments.

“To go and say that you have to operate at half capacity, doesn’t mean you operate at half the labor or half the costs,” Tangen explained. “At 50% capacity, you can’t make money as a restaurant, or it’s very difficult to”

Schwartz echoed the same.

“The 50% won’t get us quite where we need to be,” he said. “We really need to push for that 75, obviously just 100%.”

Both businesses believe this is a step in the right direction, but it could be too late as some restaurants have already closed permanently due to the pandemic.

“Most restaurants make about four to six percent profit, so when you’re at 50% capacity, it’s really hard, if not impossible to hit that margin,” Tangen said. “It’s going to be a huge struggle — a lot of restaurants operate on a thin margin as it is.”

Schwartz said he’s staying optimistic.

“I think that once we can get past phase two now that will be where we can really actually thrive and succeed, or hopefully succeed,” he said. “Phase three and phase four is really where Spokane needs to get to for other restaurants and other businesses to survive this.”