Beer and popcorn for return to WA ferries

Among all the bars and restaurants that have recently reopened their doors, one establishment has remained conspicuously cordoned off: the galleys on Washington’s ferries.

Beer and popcorn lovers around the world, rejoice because service on board the boats will be returning soon.

Two years after the once-busy commuter, tourist and pleasure cruiser pubs went silent, Sodexo-run cafeterias are due to open this month – possibly as soon as next week. Ian Sterling, spokesman for the ferries, said it had been a long time coming; Few topics are raised by customers more often than the timeline for the clam chowder’s return, he said.

“This is a sign of progress for us and hopefully for customers too,” Sterling said on Saturday.

Some caveats are in order. The rollout will be phased, meaning just five boats will enter service on four routes: Anacortes, Bainbridge, Bremerton and Edmonds. Only one of the two boats between Seattle and Bainbridge opens its galley, meaning passengers have a 50 percent chance of snagging a frozen treat. Catering will be opened on two out of four boats leaving Anacortes.

The Edmonds to Kingston and Seattle to Bremerton routes are both restricted to one-boat services due to staffing, meaning drivers may face a long wait to board, but can at least look forward to an IPA or Chardonnay, as soon as they finally do, begin their passage.

“We want to make sure it has the right cast and our staff are properly trained,” said Paul Pettis, Sodexo communications director.

The Kitsap Sun first reported on the return of food service.

Galley service is a symbiotic relationship: Washington State Ferries provides the space and contractor Sodexo provides the service, including the vending machines.

The dining areas closed along with most of the other service businesses in early 2020 and have not reopened since. One reason, said Justin Fujioka, spokesman for the ferry, is that the boats cut off their water supplies in the early days of the pandemic. Turning it back on took some effort; On most boats, the water stood so long that the system had to be thoroughly cleaned. Fujioka said water is now flowing on all but two boats.

Pettis said they worked with the local union to slash wages and bring back employees who may have been laid off when the galleys closed.

It’s been a rough few years for the state’s largest ferry system. Staff shortages and construction at the Colman Dock in downtown Seattle have resulted in chronic delays and cancellations. Both the Bremerton/Seattle and Edmonds/Kingston routes will remain in one-boat service until further notice, Sterling said.

Rider numbers, while trending upwards, are still below pre-pandemic levels. In the first three months of 2022, 3.26 million people boarded a ferry – a slight increase from 2021 but still 32% fewer than the same period in 2019.

The state Legislature allocated $4 billion for the ferries in its most recent session, primarily to introduce new boats and convert existing ferries to hybrid electric vehicles.

It remains to be seen when the labor issues and clunky service will subside. But in the meantime, passengers can at least have a beer along the way.

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