Within hours after Clark County moved into Phase 2 of the coronavirus reopening plan, Twigs Bistro at The Waterfront Vancouver offered a dine-in option for guests.
“On Friday, there was a line out the door,” said General Manager Todd MacLean. “We were full most of the weekend. There was a waitlist, and we were full of reservations all weekend. I was optimistic that would happen.”
Many of the 668 restaurants in Clark County have resumed dine-in service this week, and are finding an initial rush with enough business to at least break even under a temporary business model. But it’s not back to normal yet: Most restaurants haven’t rehired all the employees who lost their jobs because of the pandemic. Food prices are likely to be higher at dine-in service for most restaurants, too.
Some restaurants still won’t reopen dine-in until Phase 3, when they can once again use more than half of their tables.
Another factor: most people aren’t yet comfortable returning to dine-in service, reflected in a Washington State University study released Monday.
MacLean said that Twigs Bistro isn’t projected to be profitable in Phase 2 and it isn’t up to full staff yet, which is likely the case for most restaurants under the restrictions.
“We’re not going to hit numbers through the phases until Phase 4,” he said.
Because of its size, Twigs Bistro, which normally seats 120 inside and 50 to 60 outside, can bring back more amenities sooner, including reintroducing brunch service this weekend.
The owner of The Grocery Cocktail & Social, Salty Reed, said that he’s likely not going to offer dine-in service until Phase 3. The downtown restaurant and bar has a capacity of 49 people, so having only half of those seats available doesn’t pencil out, he said.
“We have such a small space as is,” he said.
The Grocery began offering takeout orders on Tuesday, which is Reed’s strategy of being one phase behind what Gov. Jay Inslee’s reopening plan allows, he said.
Reed also said that nearly every restaurant, including The Grocery, will have to raise prices after the pandemic.
“We don’t have the option not to,” he said. “It’s going to be the case for most restaurants.”
Niki Reading, spokeswoman for the Washington State Hospitality Association, said there are no statistics about how many restaurants have raised prices or how many are open for dine-in, but she’s heard of a few restaurants that had been able to decrease the number of menu options and lower prices as a result.
“Some have pared down their menu and reduced prices,” she said. “It’s a mixed bag.”
The association is collecting survey data about the current state of the restaurant industry, but it won’t be available until August, Reading said.
Dogan Gursoy, the Taco Bell Distinguished Professor at Washington State University, and a team of researchers compiled a survey of questions for restaurantgoers. Between May 1 and 7, they surveyed more than 700 people in the U.S. and released the findings on Monday.
Gursoy said the biggest finding was that most people are going to wait a while until returning to restaurants for in-person dining. About 44 percent of people surveyed said it was “very unlikely” they would dine out immediately. And 22 percent said it was “unlikely.”
The survey also asked how long the person would wait until dining out at a restaurant. About 8.7 percent said immediately, 22 percent said they would wait one or two weeks, 22 percent said three or four weeks, 27 percent said one to three months and 20 percent said more than three months.
“There are people who have been waiting to go to restaurants, and they are going,” Gursoy said. “Others are watching. When those people start feeling more comfortable, they will also go to restaurants.”
Gursoy said many people are waiting to see if there’s a second wave of COVID-19 cases, especially since protests in recent weeks over deaths of black Americans in police custody have amassed thousands of people with few social distancing practices.
During these turbulent times for restaurants, Reed said it’s important to support locally owned restaurants.
“At this time, it’s definitely more of a crucial thing than ever before,” he said. “So far, the community support has been great.”