TNT Diner

Buh-bye, lines. Katie Downs on the Ruston Way waterfront switches to table service

Find Katie Downs on the waterfront in Tacoma.
Find Katie Downs on the waterfront in Tacoma.

As any longtime Tacoman knows, diners enter Katie Downs Waterfront Tavern and immediately elect one member of the party to wait in the counter line for eleventy minutes to order food, beer or cocktails.

Then it’s a cat-and-mouse game when a food runner tries to connect an order with a diner. That’s how service has always been at the Ruston Way waterfront tavern that opened in 1982. Until now. Buh-bye lines. Counter ordering at Katie Downs is out. Table service is in.

In early January, Katie Downs axed the antiquated Panasonic ordering system that — gulp —still pushed out paper tickets to the kitchen. In the office world, that’s like running your business on Windows XP.

Servers now take orders tableside with tablets that transmit to a computer screen in the kitchen.

It’s weird to walk in and not see that line.

Katie Downs dining room
The dining room at Katie Downs has floor-to-ceiling windows with a stunning view of the Ruston waterfront. Sue Kidd

“The ordering system works great in the winter,” said Luke Hilger in a phone interview. His grandfather John “Jack” Hilger co-founded Katie Downs. It’s now run by Luke and his father, Dan.

“In the summers, we’re victims of our own success. It just gets too busy,” said Hilger.

Luke described lines that pushed through the dining room and out the door.

Katie Downs pizza
Katie Downs is known for its deep-dish pizza. Sue Kidd Staff file, 2015

Hilger and his dad made the decision to change the ordering system while business is slower. Summer is when the restaurant is slammed because of its proximity to the water. The casual pub’s floor-to-ceiling windows provide a this-is-why-we-live-here view of the waterfront. The tavern looks like a funky little castle perched over the sea. It’s best known for its deep-dish pizza.

Luke, who is 24, couldn’t even legally enter his family’s adults-only tavern until three years ago, but he said he’s been helping his dad with a “birds-eye view” since joining the family business.

With a millenial also at the helm, does that mean more change is coming?

Will we see avocado toast on the menu? Drinking vinegars and high-end barrel-aged cocktails on the booze menu?

Not a chance, said Hilger. “It wouldn’t be Katie Downs.”

Katie Downs Waterfront Tavern & Eatery

Where: 3211 Ruston Way, Tacoma

Hours: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays, 11 a.m. to midnight Fridays-Saturdays

Info: 253-756-0771 or