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Going to Pierce County’s Restaurant Rally? These owners have advice

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Restaurant Rally, a discount program offering diners 30 percent off meals at participating restaurants, is less than a week away and restaurant owners are prepping for a deluge of customers. 

Pierce County also launched the website today that lists all 200+ of the restaurants participating in the Restaurant Rally. Find that list of 200 restaurants at piercecountyrestaurantrally.com. The list can be sorted by city and cuisine type.

The Pierce County program has dedicated $7.5 million in CARES Act funding to reimburse restaurants on food sales from Nov. 8-12 and Nov. 15-19 (Friday and Saturday dining aren’t included). 

All a diner has to do is dine at one of the 200+ participating Pierce County restaurants to get a 30 percent discount off the tab. The promotion includes take-out and dine-in service at participating restaurants.

I queried restaurant owners about what they want diners to know about Restaurant Rally. Here are their tips and a few of my own for navigating Restaurant Rally.

TAKE OUT NOW INCLUDED

The program was expanded last week to include take-out and dine-in service at participating restaurants.

RESPECT THE RULES

State regulations require restaurants operate at 50 percent capacity and all parties must be limited to six or fewer. Those are not negotiable. Do not show up expecting to be seated with more than six diners. Masks are required when inside a restaurant, except when seated and eating or drinking. 

BOOZE IS NOT INCLUDED

The discount only is for food and alcoholic beverages are not discounted during Restaurant Rally.

THIRD-PARTY DELIVERY WILL NOT BE DISCOUNTED 

Pierce County’s program is a direct reimbursement to restaurants, meaning the program only will reimburse restaurants. Reimbursement does not extend to third-party delivery apps. The 30 percent discount won’t apply to a diner’s tab if that order is placed through a company – such as Uber Eats, Grub Hub or Door Dash – and the restaurant won’t be reimbursed. 

The program is set up very simply: Buy directly from the restaurant and the money goes straight to the restaurant. 

That structure makes sense to the restaurant owners I queried. Chris Miller, co-owner of The Red Hot, pointed out that if third-party delivery services were reimbursed, the county program money would be going to technology companies, not local businesses. 

That’s because when diners order from a third-party delivery app, the delivery app is the point of sale and restaurants are reimbursed later by the app (this is a simplification, but the longer explanation is that “it’s complicated”). That structure just doesn’t work for a direct reimbursement program like Restaurant Rally that is designed so that money goes directly to the restaurants.

And there’s this: Third-party delivery companies eat massive percentages of a restaurant’s profits, and there’s a growing trend among diners to skip ordering from third-party apps and order directly from restaurants so that restaurants don’t have to pay the 30 percent (or higher) fees to companies such as Uber Eats and Grub Hub. 

If you want a low-contact or no-contact take-out, many restaurants offer curb-side delivery so you can even minimize your contact with staff. Ask about it when you order.

TIP ON THE FULL AMOUNT: TREAT YOUR SERVER WELL  

“The first thing I thought when I read this was ‘my crew is gonna have their tips cut 30 percent,’ and there is nothing left on the bone right now to help them out,” said one restaurant owner who wanted to stay off the record because of a fear that angry diners would blast him/her during a time when money is tight for a lot of people. 

I’ll be the bad guy. 

Hey, diners. This isn’t the time to discount on the tip. Longtime etiquette rules (which you can read about here, here and here) suggest diners should always tip on what would have been the full amount of the bill, before discounts are applied. 

Tipping on the full amount is only a few extra bucks for you, but it’s a huge deal for hospitality workers who have seen their livelihoods skewered this year.

BE KIND TO YOUR SERVER

Timothy Hall, who owns HG Bistro in downtown Puyallup and Carne Aqui in Parkland, asks guests to please be considerate of servers who will be working double duty during the promotion.

“Be patient and understanding, as restaurants will most likely be busier than normal and as we have been running at lower capacity many are not used to being busy like pre-Covid. We will staff up for this of course to help make sure guests get the attention they deserve.” 

But, Hall said, expect there to be bumps, and just please be forgiving of small errors. 

MAKE RESERVATIONS AND KEEP THEM

“We highly recommend people make reservations. With seven tables our little joint fills up pretty darn quickly,” said Deanna Harris-Bender, chef-owner of Over the Moon Cafe in Tacoma’s Opera Alley. “And order a lot of food,” said Harris-Bender, joking, but there is a ring of truth to that. This is a chance to sample from the menu broadly, and at a discount (just don’t forget to tip on what would have been the full amount on your tab). 

Another bonus of a reservation? It helps the restaurant manage the flow of customers and keep the lobby clear and minimal risk of people being in close proximity for too long. 

And every restaurant owner added this: If you can’t make a reservation, consider it imperative to cancel it.  Every single seat matters when dining rooms only can operate at 50 percent capacity. 

KEEP YOUR MEALS SHORT

“Respect how long you hang out after dining as we need as many people as possible to take advantage of this offer,” said Hall. “I know it’s not a good policy to ask diners to not hang out afterwards and chat it up, but perhaps during this Restaurant Rally, if they were more conscious of what is at stake for the restaurants it could help tremendously.”

CHECK SOCIAL MEDIA BEFORE YOU GO 

Some restaurants were discussing adding specials exclusive for Restaurant Rally days, and even extending the discount to happy hours and other promotions that already offer good value. They’ll post about those specials on their social media. 

Also, restaurant owners advised to check a restaurant’s website and social media before you go in order to make sure you understand if they’re limiting the menu in any way. Expect some restaurants, in order to handle the crowds, will offer a menu that might look different from the restaurant’s normal menu.

Looking for the list of participating restaurants? Visit piercecountyrestaurantrally.com.

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