Even though restaurants have been re-opening dine-in services for about a week now, they're likely suffering from a bit of pandemic-related whiplash. On top of that, restaurants are adjusting to new requirements, such as more frequent cleaning sessions, rearranging tables to accommodate social distancing and even screening employees and customers for signs of COVID-19. In a nutshell, our friends in the restaurant and hospitality industry are going to need your patience and understanding now, even more than they did while offering delivery or curbside service.
I figure that most Utahns won't have a problem with being considerate in these weird times, but I'm also willing to bet that there are some people out there who either can't not be a dick, or aren't aware they're being a dick. It's a small net to cast, but I want to do what little I can to help heal the gaping wound that the pandemic has left in our restaurant scene while these businesses try to get themselves back on track. As someone who is anxiously awaiting a re-emergence into our local dining scene, here are a few things I'm keeping in mind.
Allow Time for Readjustment. Regardless of each local restaurant's experience level, the pandemic brought everyone back to square one. They all had to endure a two-month shutdown, with less than a week to prepare and reopen for dine-in services. If this was just a return to business as usual, I could see that adjustment period being shorter, but keep in mind that these places are reopening with a whole slew of new requirements in place to curb the spread of COVID-19. We'll be entering restaurants with altered table arrangements and masked servers, where every cough and sneeze will garner suspicious glances from the clientele. Long story short: It will take much longer than a week for restaurants to get their sea legs while things hopefully deescalate. Be patient and tip generously.
Remember How a Guest Should Treat a Host. One of the more unfortunate byproducts of living in a hyper-capitalist society is the mentality that opening your wallet for someone else's goods or services gives you power over them. I see it more often than I'd like in my line of work—something about paying someone else to cook their meal makes certain people get horny for entitlement. With restaurant owners now responsible to screen customers for signs of respiratory illness, that customer-is-always right attitude is going to cause all kinds of uncomfortable situations. While there's no excuse for a restaurant owner to be rude about this socially awkward requirement, there's even less of an excuse for customers to be rude about being asked to leave or mask up. Right now, restaurant owners are under the same state-dictated obligation to remove someone who could be sick as they are to remove customers who light up a cigarette at the table. Just be cool, people.
Keep Ordering Takeout. I totally understand the myriad small joys of visiting a restaurant. The ambient chatter, the scents of cooking gently wafting away from the kitchen and the thrill of making a final selection from the menu are all wonderful in their own ways. In many cases, however, restaurants are going to struggle to accommodate dine-in patrons. Those small, hole-in-the-wall favorites that can only comfortably seat 20 people are going to have a hell of a time upholding social distancing requirements. Even places with large spaces at their disposal are at a disadvantage, because they must rearrange their table structure. All in all, bringing the food that you love back home to eat will help ease the transitional burden that your local favorites are facing.
Be Kind to Fellow Diners. Spending two months in quarantine has put all of us on edge. Days of frustrated powerlessness and uncertainty have blunted our social skills, while making us irritable and anxious. Though I expect most of us will be happy to see members of our fair city out and about a little bit more, the fact remains that we're still in a state of emergency, and that can have a weird effect on people. As we live in a time where every response to the COVID-19 pandemic carries some political subtext, it's important to remember that all of us have experienced some degree of struggle—which means all of us need a little patience as things start to normalize. It's also worth keeping in mind that some people have been hit harder by the pandemic than others, and you never know the impact that a little bit of kindness will have on someone who has been getting their ass handed to them over the past few months. In the words of Patton Oswalt via his late wife, author Michelle McNamara, "It's chaos. Be kind."