Buffets and salad bars are back on the menu for restaurants and bars in King County.
But it could be a while before any bands perform live in those establishments.
On Monday, Gov. Jay Inslee quietly issued new guidance allowing the resumption of self-service buffets, salad bars, salsa bars, drink stations and other types of communal food sources in Phase 2 of the state’s four-stage reopening scheme. Those dining options had previously been barred until Phase 3.
Seventeen of the state’s 39 counties are in Phase 2 and have been for weeks. Another 17 are in Phase 3. Five counties are still in Phase 1.
Under the new guidance, restaurant operators will need to install permanent barriers, like sneeze guards, to protect food. Once buffets and salad bars are restarted, operators must be able to ensure customers use hand sanitizer before and after handling any serving utensil.
And employees are going to have to continually monitor the food and beverage stations to make sure patrons are abiding the rules and maintaining physical distancing, according to the written guidance.
Anthony Anton, president and CEO of the Washington Hospitality Association, said the organization had been working with the state Department of Health to clarify guidance for buffet-style operations.
“Our restaurant operators are willing, capable and committed to keeping our guests, employees and communities safe,” he said in a statement. “We are seeking to earn trust by demonstrating compliance and commitment in all phases so we can reopen and stay open.”
Another change formalized this week prohibits seating at bar counters and live entertainment in the second and third phases of reopening.
Originally, both had been permitted in counties that had reached Phase 3. But a recent surge in coronavirus cases among young adults in the state and scenes of packed bars in other states, where the virus is spreading even more rapidly, stirred Inslee to step in and impose the restrictions.
“We just can’t have people mingling shoulder to shoulder,” Inslee said. “We don’t want to learn the lessons of other states.”
Also Monday, Inslee extended through Aug. 1 restrictions on visitors to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. The state Department of Social and Health Services is reportedly working on a plan to enable those facilities to once again welcome visitors.