Like all businesses affected by state-mandated coronavirus precautions, The Guest House, a two-year-old Kenmore restaurant neighboring Arrowhead Elementary School, has been diligent about making protocol adjustments as new health measures came to the fore.
“Like everybody, we’ve been responding progressively, depending on what the circumstances have been,” Amanda Kearney, who co-owns the business with her husband Kevin Kearney, said during a March 20 interview with the Reporter. “Like all owners, we’re pivoting our response to mirror what we’re learning from the government and from the authorities.”
Over that weekend, though — a few days after the initial interview had been conducted — The Guest House, which had worked to persevere as health measures became stricter, made a difficult decision. Starting at the end of the day on March 22, the restaurant closed until coronavirus effects decrease.
Before then, The Guest House had been continuously updating its business model as needed. Early on, Amanda said, they changed the frequency and procedures of their cleaning practices. Tables were taken out of the restaurant to stay in line with social-distancing recommendations.
“That was sort of where things started,” Amanda said.
Clipboards, which menus are typically presented on, were eliminated. So were check presenters — really “anything that we didn’t need to have to sanitize and have people worry about touching or handling unnecessarily,” Amanda said.
Then, when the mandate from Gov. Jay Inslee came March 16 that restaurants needed to stop in-house dining and start exclusively looking at to-go, delivery and car-side options, things shifted.
The Kearneys knew there would be a need for employees to file for unemployment — something about which workers were immediately contacted.
“Because even in a takeout situation, we knew that we could probably have only maybe one or two or three, possibly, employees that we could keep on in that model,” Amanda said.
Still, employees were asked to be on standby if possible.
“We’re obviously very interested in rehiring all of them when the opportunity permits,” Amanda said.
After this, a meeting, which included a handful of workers in managerial positions, discussed what a takeout scenario would look like. How could the business devise a new menu that was straightforward, but interesting to customers, that was concise, but also representative of The Guest House?
For a few days, The Guest House continued operating, with special new hours. It kept a small staff, which included Amanda, Kevin (who is the restaurant’s chef) and his sous chef. There was one front-of-house person answering phones and handing off orders as they became ready. A dishwasher would intermittently come in for a few hours.
Although The Guest House was still seeing business, Amanda said on March 20 that its revenue stream was “30 percent of what it would normally be on the same day in normal circumstances,” which was prompting discussions about further cost-cutting.
Amanda noted her appreciation of the community support she saw during the brief period in which The Guest House was operating under coronavirus protocols. She said that many customers included people who don’t typically spend their discretionary income on food, because they wanted “to support their local community amenities,” and that many patrons had been buying gift cards.
“I feel like there’s a real awareness in the communities of patrons just having compassion and sympathy for people who are very directly affected by this,” Amanda added. “Of course, we’re all very directly affected by this…The thing I hope is good that’s coming out of this is that sense of compassion and awareness for how interconnected we all are, and how much we rely on each other.”
While many businesses have remained operational under to-go circumstances, owners countrywide are nonetheless faced with a common ethical dilemma. Although measures are being taken to maintain safety, are customers and employees alike still being put into jeopardy?
On March 22, The Guest House released a statement on its Facebook page. The business announced that it was closing its take-out services, and that it would be temporarily closed for an unspecified amount of time.
“We decided this weekend that we no longer felt safe exposing our staff and customers to the risk,” Kevin said in a follow-up email to the Reporter.
The statement noted the difficulty of maintaining the to-go program without the restaurant’s normal in-house staff while also keeping intact the well-being of both employees and patrons.
The statement also stressed how much customer support had meant to The Guest House during the transitional period — and that the closure is not planned to be permanent.
“Our appreciation for you is eternal,” the statement reads. “You have shown us what it means to be ‘a village’ in the truest sense. Your compassion and generosity is appreciated in ways it is hard to put in words. We plan to reopen as soon as our shared concern is behind us. We look forward to that day and celebrating life with each of you again soon.”