Washington Restaurants Will Collect Diners' Personal Info for Coronavirus Tracking

Governor Jay Inslee says contact tracing is part of the state's "common-sense" approach to allowing restaurants to reopen.
restaurant receipt

Earlier this week, Washington governor Jay Inslee released a set of guidelines that restaurants must follow when they're given the go-ahead to reopen for table service. Any restaurant that plans to serve dine-in customers will be required to seat no more than five people at a single table, to ensure that tables are either six feet apart or separated by some kind of physical barrier, and it is "strongly suggested" that all guests should wear a cloth mask when interacting with the staff, when they're approaching or leaving their table, or using the restroom.


On top of that, restaurants will be required to keep a record of all of the customers who have eaten there in the past month. "If the establishment offers table service, [it must] create a daily log of all customers and maintain that daily log for 30 days, including telephone/email contact information, and time in," the proposed Phase 2 Restaurant/Tavern Reopening Requirements state. "This will facilitate any contact tracing that might need to occur."

Inslee said that contact-tracing was part of the state's "common-sense" approach to allowing restaurants to start serving customers in-person again. "If you have somebody who has become sick and they were sitting right next to a person at a restaurant, to be able to identify that person could be very valuable for their health to try to save their life, and so we put that in place," he said.

The governor also preemptively addressed some of the privacy concerns that surrendering your personal information to, say, the Kirkwood Olive Garden, explaining that all customer data would be deleted after 14 days, and that, in the event that a guest either tested positive for coronavirus or was in contact with someone who had, that contact information would only be shared with healthcare professionals.

"No one is looking to make this a federal crime," Inslee said. "We're trying to save some lives here."

Even if customer information is only available to medical professionals and the restaurant staff, that doesn't mean that someone isn't going to be a creep about it. A New Zealand woman said that after she had to give her address, email address, and phone number to a Subway restaurant in Auckland, one of its workers allegedly started harassing her. She told NewsHub that she received a Facebook friend request, an Instagram request, a note through Facebook messenger and a text, all from the man who made her sandwich.


"I felt pretty gross, he made me feel really uncomfortable," the woman, identified only as Jess, told the outlet. "You just want to know that that information is protected and it's not going to be misused for some dude to just text you because he fancies you, that's not the point of the information."

Subway said that it had "suspended" the worker, and that it had implemented a new digital contact tracing system that could only be accessed in response to a request from the government.

Contact tracing could become more common in the United States as additional businesses—not just restaurants—reopen, although there's also zero indication that owners or customers will be universally OK with those requirements. Steve Adler, the mayor of Austin, Texas, has recently asked businesses in the city to keep track of who's coming and going and, on Monday, the Texas Restaurant Association sent him a letter to register its disapproval.

The Association's concerns aren't just about customer privacy; it also believes that being asked to collect that information puts "too much responsibility" on restaurant owners. "The carve-out on small business for a place like Austin, which is all about ‘Keep Austin Weird' [and] support local independence, it just feels very different than what we've experienced before," TRA President and CEO Emily Williams Knight told KXAN. "I felt as an association we had to step forward and just say it’s simply not right."

Back in Washington state, Governor Inslee has circled June 1 as the "hopeful date" for when restaurants might be allowed to reopen their dining areas. "The virus will determine whether we can start on June 1," he said. "And our ability to be successful in our social distancing and our contract tracing will determine whether we can take that next step on June 1st."