Washington clears the way for catering to ramp up

The state is one of several that have lifted restrictions on restaurants this week.
Photograph: Shutterstock

The state of Washington has given the go-ahead for hotels, conference centers and other venues to resume using up to 30% of their meeting space for gatherings of 200 or fewer people, clearing the way for restaurants to ramp up their catering businesses again.

The state is the latest in recent days to roll back restrictions that had hampered restaurant sales for the sake of public safety.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogland raised the capacity cap on indoor restaurant dining within his state to 75% of seating as of 5 p.m. on Monday, though Anne Arundel and Frederick Counties and the city of Baltimore have opted to stay at 50%.  

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf lifted the indoor seating limit on qualifying restaurants within his state to 50% on Monday as well. To be eligible for the increase in capacities, establishments are required to self-certify that they are following recommended safety protocols.

New York City restaurants are scrambling to put 25% of their indoor dining space back into use on Sept. 30, while places in San Francisco are awaiting word from government officials about when they can resume interior table service. Mayor London Breed and local health officials have promised to set a date after the end of the month.

Meanwhile, pressure continues to build on other governors to ease the nighttime service cutoffs that have been imposed to keep restaurant patrons from lingering after their meals and socializing until closing time. Restaurants in Ohio sent a letter Tuesday to Gov. Mike DeWine that implores the state’s chief executive to raise the curfew on alcohol sales from the current 10 p.m. to midnight. Places in Seattle have petitioned Washington Gov. Jay Inslee to restore 2 a.m. as the cutoff.

Louisiana raised its last-drink time to 11 p.m., from 10 p.m., in part to allow more of sporting events to be shown.

Inslee okayed limited gatherings in Washington via a restrictions update Tuesday. The permission extends to conference and convention centers, hotel meeting spaces, events centers or “substantially similar” venues. Business meetings are specifically mentioned as being OK, but receptions and other networking-style events are still forbidden, as are concerts.

The new guidelines specify that food served during the gatherings must be pre-plated and “self-contained,” with no need for items to be added from a buffet line or family-style serving platters. The mask-wearing and social-distancing requirements imposed on restaurants also apply to the meetings' foodservices, according to Inslee’s guidelines.

Meeting sites must get a clearance from state officials before they can welcome guests again, and on-site registrations are required to be staggered to avoid a bunch-up.

Although restaurants routinely stepped up their off-premise operations after dining rooms were closed, most focused on takeout and delivery rather than catering, where big orders are brought to a remote location.  The business dropped precipitously as offices closed, social gatherings were prohibited, and even at-home social occasions were discouraged.

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