Guidelines for restaurants and other food businesses
Minimizing the spread of COVID-19
On Jan. 11, King County entered Phase 1 of the state's new Healthy Washington - Roadmap to Recovery plan. This new path forward allows us to balance fighting COVID-19 and saving lives with safely reopening the economy and vaccinating as many people as possible.
Phase 1 aligns with restrictions in place with a few key exceptions. Some indoor fitness and outdoor entertainment, for example, are now permitted with restrictions.
COVID activity remains high in King County. It is important that we continue to avoid socializing indoors, limit our gatherings and discretionary activities, wear masks, keep interactions brief and practice social distancing so we can continue to slow the virus' spread and reopen our region's economy.
Food businesses can play an important role in protecting both their employees and customers from COVID-19 by following recommended personal and environmental hygiene recommendations.
Safe Start for Taverns and Restaurants (SSTAR)
King County's Safe Start for Taverns and Restaurants (SSTAR) program provides education and materials to help restaurants implement state and public health guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It also increases the accountability of food service establishments to abide by the health and safety standards that support a safe reopening. Read more about SSTAR on the Public Health Insider blog: Ensuring safe start compliance in restaurants and taverns: SSTAR launches in King County.
What SSTAR inspectors are looking for
When SSTAR inspectors visit a food establishment, they’ll be assessing safety on the following 9 measures. Each measure will be assessed as full, partial, or out of compliance.
These measures are all based on King County's Safe Start guidance for food service establishments.
- For a complete list of COVID-19 requirements for restaurants and other food facilities, visit the Washington State Dept. of Health's Food Worker and Establishment Guidance on COVID-19.
- The Governor’s office has provided guidance for Restaurants and other Food Facilities.
- Healthy Washington - Roadmap to Recovery announced by Governor's Office on January 5, 2021
Read more about the 9 measures and find information to help you comply:
Check to see if employees have any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 at the start of their shift. Use this COVID-19 employee screening tool and keep a log that the screening process was followed for all employees.
If an employee has COVID symptoms: send them home and advise them to seek testing. Find a free COVID test site near you.
All employees must wear face coverings at all times when present at work.
The Washington State Dept. of Labor & Industries requires employers to provide at no cost appropriate face coverings or masks to their employees.
More information on our face coverings requirement webpage.
Maintain at least six feet of separation between all employees and between employees and customers, except for unavoidable, short-term exposures. When strict physical distancing is not feasible for a specific task, other measures are required, such as installing barriers, reducing staff or staggering worker hours.
All employees must wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm water for 20 seconds upon first arriving to work, after using the restroom, before and after eating and frequently throughout the day. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
Provide alcohol based (60%) hand sanitizers for use for both employees and customers by placing them at convenient/accessible locations.
Use sanitizing solution (i.e., one teaspoon of unscented household bleach in a gallon of cool water) to frequently sanitize commonly touched surfaces and objects such as electronics, door knobs, faucet handles, counter tops, cash machine key pads, dining tables at least hourly. Change the sanitizing solution at least once every four hours.
Replace utensils for salad bars and buffets hourly.
Clean and sanitize tables, condiment containers, and menus after every customer.
Ensure dishwasher and/or three–compartment sinks are used properly and have the appropriate level of sanitizer for final rinse (50-100 PPM chlorine based sanitizer, follow product label for other approved sanitizers).
Ensure sneeze guards are in place where required.
For more information, see guidance for cleaning and disinfecting from the CDC.
Have a plan to obtain and maintain voluntary customer contact information to help with contact tracing. Food establishment owners are required to have a system for collecting this information but customers are not required to share their information. Maintain a daily log of all guests that voluntarily provide contact information, including customer names, phone/email, and time/date they were in the facility. Maintain the log for 30 days to help with contact tracing.
Examples of how customers can provide the voluntary information: posting signage suggesting customers provide contact information on a log sheet, providing individual forms or a log sheet for customers to fill out, using credit card receipts to add customer names to the log, or using a reservation system to maintain contact info.
Indoor seating at food establishments is currently prohibited. Outdoor seating is limited to 5 guests per table. All tables should be arranged to meet 6 ft. distancing between customers at adjoining tables. Covered outdoor seating structures (temporary or permanent) should have no more than two walls to provide appropriate ventilation. See the Governor’s guidance for more information.
Bar counter seating is not allowed. Do not allow seating at a bar table or counter where customers sit or stand side-by-side, and alcohol is served. Close bar area seating that allows for the congregation of customers from separate parties.
Counter-style seating is permitted in other areas of the establishment such as sushi bars and lunch counters, so long as 6 feet of physical distance is maintained between customers from different parties and from food workers.
Outdoor Dining tables and seating booths are allowed if they follow the same dining requirements in the guidance document.
All alcohol sales, service and consumption must end at 11:00 pm.
Food service establishments must require and enforce the use of face coverings by all customers. All customers must wear a face covering at all times while at the food establishment, except when actively eating or drinking.
Some people are exempt from mask requirements for health and safety reasons. In these cases, food establishments should try to offer a reasonable accommodation, such as curb-side pick-up, delivery or take-out. Reference this toolkit and educate employees to understand mask exemptions.
Post signage advising everyone to wear face coverings on the premises. Download a sign that you can print and hang in your business.
Visit our face coverings webpage for more information.
Ask customers to stay 6 feet apart from others, including between tables at restaurants, customers waiting in line, and customer seating in the lobby or waiting area. You may need to print posters encouraging this behavior, or place tape or markers on the floor six feet apart.
Seat customers from separate groups at least 6 feet apart, or if 6 feet is not possible for indoor seating, an acceptable barrier may be allowed. Barriers should be a smooth, rigid surface that is easily cleanable and of sufficient height to provide adequate protection from coughs and sneezes from nearby booths or tables.
Seat customers from separate groups at least 6 feet apart, or with an acceptable barrier in between (like an impermeable barrier, such as a plexiglass window or plastic sheet). Barriers are recommended to be at least 6’ in height.
No vending or game areas (like pool, darts, or video games) are allowed.
What should i do if a food worker is diagnosed with COVID-19?
Food businesses must notify Public Health within 24 hours if you suspect COVID is spreading in your workplace or if there are two or more confirmed or suspected cases among your employees in a 14-day period. Report cases online.
At this time, food business employers are not required to report a single COVID-19 case among employees to Public Health – Seattle & King County. The Health Department will be informed by the healthcare provider that conducted the employee's COVID-19 test.
If you have food employees at higher risk for coronavirus with underlying health conditions, such as people 60 or older, people with underlying health conditions (heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes) or those with weakened immune systems or those who are pregnant: consider temporarily assigning employees with underlying health conditions to non-public-contact duties. employees in high-risk groups for COVID-19 must be granted leave if they can't report to work for health reasons. Read the guidance memo for Proclamation 20-46.1 about "High-Risk Employees – Workers’ Rights".
It is against the law for any employer to fire or retaliate against a worker for reporting concerns about health and safety.
Find out more about worker's rights, WA State Dept. of Labor and Industries
- SSTAR & Small Business Task Force Webinar, July 29, 2020 (video)
- Virtual food safety assessments
- Food Worker and Establishment Guidance on COVID-19, Washington State Dept. of Health
Download posters and materials for your restaurant
We're here to help! If you are a food business owner or a food worker and have questions related to your operation, please reach out to your Health Investigator by calling 206-263-9566 to speak with office staff or email us at: email@example.com
To file a complaint about a possible unsafe food handling or unsafe COVID-19 practice observation at a King County food establishment, please see www.kingcounty.gov/foodcomplaint
Link/share our site at www.kingcounty.gov/SSTAR