I want to start out and say that I have been very privileged during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both my husband and I have kept our jobs this entire time, with me transitioning to working from home. We have not experienced anything close to the trauma so many have felt. Early on I was volunteering at the Farmer’s Market, each week wearing an outfit more ridiculous than the last, because the post-apocalyptic world I want to live in involves neighbors bringing smiles to each other’s faces even in the darkest of times.
Because of my history as a Chef and Culinary School teacher, I am able to self-isolate in a fairly extreme manner, venturing to the Farmer’s Market weekly for fresh produce, meat, fish, eggs and cheese, and about once a month to the grocery store to stock up on staples. We barely even got takeout—early on the risks just seemed to high— and then cooking for myself just became comfortable when so much was terrifying. All that being said, eating out has always been one of my greatest pleasures in life. Sitting down at a restaurant always made me feel like a queen, and I truly miss dining out.
Some ground rules I have established for myself that I would urge you to follow.
- The food has to be worth it. In order to risk my own health, I want to know that this is going to be an experience worth having. We eat at locally owned places where we know we are supporting our friends and neighbors. Those dollars go back into our community as opposed to being sent to corporate Head Quarters.
- Listen to my/your gut. If I feel uncomfortable for any reason I will leave. One of the gifts this global pandemic has given me is that I no longer am trying to make others feel alright at a risk to my own safety or wellbeing. I am the guy who will ask people to cover their nose in the grocery store or ask someone to step back if they are within six feet of me. This same attitude will apply to dining out.
- Don’t blow up on social media. Of course, if you see something say something, but say it to the appropriate person. Running a restaurant is not for the faint of heart. From my conversations with local restaurateurs, I can promise you that they are all doing their best in an ever-changing landscape of rules and regulations. No one wants to be responsible for getting others sick, and the restaurant industry has always held sanitation practices to the highest standard. If you see an employee doing something wrong, tell the manager or owner. Remember we are all learning how to do this at the same time and are all humans prone to making mistakes.
- Remember in many ways the restaurant industry is a numbers game. It only makes financial sense for restaurants to open if they can seat a certain number of guests, and two-tops tend to spend less than larger parties per person. So don’t be surprised if your favorite dish has gone up a few dollars. If you want these places to be around for the long haul, they have to start making money again.
- Be kind to the waitstaff and TIP, TIP, TIP! If you have enough to be going out to eat, you have enough to tip at least 20%. Wait staff are working hard and putting their own health at risk so you can have an evening out. To paraphrase Dave Barry, “if someone is rude to the waiter, they are not a nice person”.
- If you are not ready, don’t eat out. No one is more sick of their own cooking then I am, but I didn’t start eating out again until I was ready, and even now it will be with nowhere near the frequency I once enjoyed.
Dining out during a pandemic cannot be what it was; wait staff cannot physically come to the table and check in on their guests with as much frequency, the flow of every restaurant has changed, tables must be sanitized more thoroughly between guests and the list goes on.
Restaurants are learning and doing whatever they can to survive with rules in constant flux. Everyone including cooks, staff and other patrons are under much more stress. But with patience, understanding and a little bit of luck we can all return to some sense of normalcy in the coming months.