By Anthony Anton, president and CEO
Our board of directors and a significant number of members from all sectors of our industry have asked me to stress the importance to our members of not only compliance, but leadership, when comes to following the state’s reopening guidelines and ensuring the safety of our guests and staff members.
We must not only ensure the safety of our guests and employees in this moment, but also to take actions today that ensure the complete reopening of our businesses in the future. Our future depends on a foundation of trust.
Trust with government
Most of the state still needs to get to Phase 3, if nothing else, to start the clock on Phase 4. A very small number of people decide our fate: Gov. Jay Inslee, the county commissioners and health departments. This leap of faith to move forward will not only involve a look at the data but will also involve a good deal of trust in our industry that we are willing, capable and committed to keeping our guests, employees and community safe. That trust will be built by demonstrating the compliance and commitment in Phase 2.
For many, many restaurants Phase 3 is almost meaningless because restrictions including six-foot distancing and 75% seating capacity simply are simply not doable. Their physical space can’t functionally fit that number of tables within their space. Phase 4 won’t mean much either as long as six-foot distancing is in place.
We know you want your indoor seating capacity back. So, here is what we need. We need compliance with the state’s requirements to build trust that we can turn and use to negotiate solutions for you.
This week I intend to visit some of those restaurants with members of local health departments to brainstorm solutions. This is the first pandemic since 1918 so there is no roadmap for how a modern restaurant protects guests and workers from such a virus. Outside of six-foot distancing barriers and personal protective equipment, there are no proven weapons against the virus. My intent is to come up with innovative alternatives or additional protections that would allow further opening of our industry. Those ideas will need to be built on logic and trust. That trust level fully depends on the industry’s compliance and commitment in Phase 2.
Trust with our community
Many of our members have been inquiring about who is going to enforce these regulations. The technical answer is Labor & Industries with support from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board and the local health departments. However, the real answer is social media. Photos and brutal public criticism on Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat, etc., have been far more effective in correcting member missteps than state agencies. And while this is helpful in ensuring compliance, the fact that the missteps occur at all is harmful to building trust with our community.
This is trust that the public needs to have if it is to start demanding that the economy be further opened. Trust the public needs to have if they are to return to dining out multiple times a week. Trust the public needs to have if they are going to follow our Rediscover Washington campaign for later this summer and start filling up hotel and dining rooms around the state. Trust the industry must have if decisions need to be made on how to react to a second wave of the virus.
This is a moment in time that is greater than you or me. It is about re-shaping the foundation of trust the public has in our industry. If we do it right and build the confidence we need, we will be open quicker and have the opportunity for better business models moving forward. If we do not, we will we be opening slower and the attacks on our industry’s business model will increase.
The fate of our industry’s future has been entrusted into your hands. Please exhibit that that trust was put in the right place.