Comment: Restaurants, brew pubs need help to weather storm

We can halt indoor dining, but how do we make sure eateries are there when it’s safe to open again?

By Pat Ringe / For The Herald

Winter is coming. As the days turn colder and darker, we all know this is literally true.

But fans of the popular HBO fantasy show “Game of Thrones” recognize the lines as the motto of the Starks, the lords of the North, who must always prepare for the hardships wrought by the cold on their lands. Metaphorically, the phrase reflects the idea that even in good times, people must vigilantly prepare for the dark periods of life that inevitably lie ahead.

As the covid-19 pandemic drags into its ninth month in America, perhaps no group is more acutely aware that “winter is coming” — in fact, has come roaring in — than the restaurants, bars and breweries that form the heart and soul of our communities.

We operate on razor-thin margins even in the best of times. We were devastated when in-person dining was ordered to stop in mid-March and lost nearly all of our revenue overnight. Many were forced to let go the majority of their workers. By May, for instance, nearly every bartender in the state had been laid off, and many remain unemployed to this day. Once it was clear the virus wasn’t going to disappear anytime soon, many establishments closed their doors for good.

Now, to curb a drastic spike in coronavirus cases across Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee has ordered another shutdown for all indoor dining through at least Dec. 14. This could be the final blow for those establishments barely hanging on as it is. Even the most resilient places that have fought so hard to adapt to unprecedentedly difficult circumstances may finally close permanently.

But that doesn’t need to be the way this story unfolds. There appeared to be hope this summer, when ingenuity and resilience reigned: Our restaurants, bars and breweries that somehow survived the spring shutdown found ways to hang on a little longer. We revamped our menus; we opened outdoor patios to draw eaters and drinkers; we offered a break for people weary of home cooking, offering takeout, delivery, and, eventually, limited indoor dining.

As the cold and dark descend, again suspending indoor dining as an option, many eateries and breweries will need to find new ways to pivot. Maybe they’ll offer special menus with beer and food pairings for takeout, just in time for the holidays. Maybe they’ll offer pick-up pop-ups in new locations. Maybe they’ll offer clever merchandise for stocking stuffers. All of these actions and ideas hopefully can help keep the lights on a little longer, but for the majority of restaurants, bars and brewers it is not sustainable.

Washingtonians have been doing their part to support local restaurants and breweries throughout the pandemic. But it’s not all up to the community to ensure restaurants, bars and breweries can continue to weather the storm. Legislators, both in Olympia and Washington, D.C. must provide a lifeline, too, by putting together an economic relief package for the struggling hospitality and brewing industries and refrain from imposing measures that would further economic harm, like raising the beer tax, a move that could not come at a worse time.

Winter is coming, but we can prevent the darkest, bleakest outcomes for these local, small businesses if legislators come together to provide real and significant relief. So far, it feels like they have been indifferent or at least more preoccupied with playing politics then helping their constituents. Thankfully our communities and loyal customers continue to support their favorite local places to eat and drink. It is past time for legislators to do the same!

Pat Ringe is brewmaster and co-owner of Diamond Knot Brewing Co., since 1994, Snohomish county’s longest continually operating brewery.

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