Restaurant industry faces more uncertainty with closed patios and possible looming restrictions

SPOKANE, Wash. – This year has been serving up plenty of uncertainty for the restaurant industry.

The looming winter weather and lack of outdoor seating is just one challenge.

The biggest source of income for Tamarack Public House was its outdoor seating area over the summer. However, with the colder weather on its way, it served as a big blow to the restaurant.

The restaurant’s dining room is still closed, and owner Teresa Gonder is working on getting it open.

The patio was full of life in July, but now the holidays and winter are on the way. That means they can’t do dining outside anymore.

“We had to close it down right at the beginning of October. As soon as the weather turned, we were really fortunate to have that long of a season outside,” she said.

Having the space outside really helped, especially with the pandemic and all its restrictions. Tamarack Public House was also doing to-go orders, but that slowed down once other restaurants reopened for dining.

“It’s already been hard enough, but through the revenue we earned through our patio seating, we were able to cover all of our expenses,” she said, adding that once they open the dining room, it should be the same.

Gonder purchased medical grade air purifiers to help people feel safe eating inside.

They were set to reopen next week, even having customers call in for reservations, but that didn’t work out. The couple of air purifiers they have kept popping fuses and Gonder is still waiting for electricians to help come fix it.

While she focuses on setting up the dining room, Bark, A Rescue Pub, is investing in a hot commodity this winter: Igloos.

They wanted to take advantage of its patio over the winter.

“Us Spokanites love to be out on our patios. For us going into colder weather, for us being open for about two and a half, three months now, losing that great asset has a huge impact in business,” said Josh Wade, a co-owner of Bark.

However, the patio still has outdoor tables and chairs right now instead of the igloos. Wade says he ordered them a few weeks ago, and the company he ordered from is on a wait of 4 to 6 weeks.

“For us, we’re looking forward to hopefully having these igloos open it will generate some much needed revenue, and it’ll provide a dining experience for people,” he said.

Wade says it is “quite an investment” to get the igloos, but they’re doing them so customers can get another experience.

He plans to have the campfire-themed, hoping to have them in, up and ready for reservations by the first or second week of December.

All these plans for the next couple of weeks, though, could come to a halt.

Governor Jay Inslee has hinted at some new restrictions, even scheduling a press conference Sunday morning to detail new plans to help slow the spread of the virus.

READ: ‘It’s just too dangerous’: Gov. Inslee pleads with Washingtonians to avoid large gatherings this Thanksgiving 

Gonder says her restaurant could survive “a couple of months” if there were another shutdown.

“But that’s it. That’s as far as we’ll be able to make it,” she said.

Wade, who is also the owner of Nectar Wine and Beer, says winter is usually the slower months for the restaurant industry.

“You’re going to see an even more devastating impact on any additional shut downs than we saw even in March and April,” Wade said.

He’s worried, though, because Bark is still a newer restaurant, only opening up in August.

“We spent a lot of money opening. So, that’s about a revenue you’d be able to generate if it disappears, you don’t have the years of longevity that some businesses might have that they have a loyal customer base that they can go for take out,” he said.

Though Inslee’s plans are not known just yet, Gonder says she’s fine following the rules if it comes down to it to help limit the spread of COVID-19. She said to-go orders were strong when everyone else was also shut down.

“It’s just tough. It’s rough financially for all of us, but that’s a global roughness. It’s not just us here in Spokane but it’s all of Washington, it’s the United States, it’s other countries,” she said. “It’s just what we’re all dealing with and we just have to be positive we can get through it.”

READ: Washington Hospitality Assoc. fears 100,000 people will lose their jobs if further statewide restrictions take effect