Thurston County’s move into Phase 2 of the governor’s Healthy Washington reopening plan has expanded restaurant options in South Sound. Many eateries are once again offering indoor dining at 25 percent capacity, while outdoor seating and takeout remain plentiful.
There’s a fourth option, too, one you might not have heard much about: open-air dining, or indoor dining with outdoor fresh — and often cold — air.
Guidelines issued Jan. 12 allow restaurants to serve at 25 percent capacity indoors even in Phase 1 as long as plenty of outside air is coming in, indoor air is moving out and the restaurant has carbon-dioxide monitors to prove it.
Locally, Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar, Three Magnets Brewing Co. and Well 80 Brewhouse launched open-air dining in January and plan to continue following the Phase 1 guidelines.
““We always put safety first,” said Sonny Avila, a bartender at Well 80. “We want all the airflow we can get.”
“We all know that being indoors is a huge issue, so if we can bring the outdoors in, we are all better off,” said Sara Reilly, who owns Three Magnets with her husband, Nate. “It’s chilly, but we added some tabletop heaters to take the chill off.”
In fact, it’s sometimes difficult to decide where seating is more comfortable.
“Sometimes it’s cooler inside than it is in the outside area, because we’re able to have the propane heaters out there,” said Chelsea manager Amilia Forsberg. “I sat out there with my mom the other day, and I was hot. I had to take off my coat.
“We do have the heat on inside,” she added, “and we advise people to dress more warmly than they might think for indoor dining.”
Pizzeria La Gitana in Olympia experimented with open-air dining during the last week of January but is now offering diners a choice between a warm experience indoors or a cooler one at its outdoor tables.
“It was cold,” said pizzeria manager Marian Licxandru. “We keep the doors closed now with Phase 2 kicking in, so inside it is nice and warm.”
His customers prefer the indoor dining, he said.
At Three Magnets, business was booming when open-air dining began, but it slowed a bit once indoor dining options expanded, Reilly said.
“We know that we’re only appealing to certain parts of our regular customer base, and that’s OK,” she said. “I know that some people are over it, and they are willing to take risks, and that’s fine. … We’ll take the scared people.”
Three Magnets also has set up a contactless ordering system. Diners order online, pick up their food when it’s ready and bus their own tables. Help is available if technical issues arise.
The system keeps diners separate from restaurant staff, but it also makes for a more sustainable business, Reilly said.
“With contactless order, I only have to have one server here, so we’re able to keep our labor costs low enough that we’re not losing gobs and gobs of money,” she said. “We’re still losing money, don’t get me wrong, but we’re losing less money this way.”