Dinner’s Ready – Sort Of… Changes to be aware of when eating out.

Dinner’s Ready – Sort Of… Changes to be aware of when eating out.

By Kristen Margo Daukas

I almost titled this article “What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been” but t

he trip is far from over. As restaurants and bars were forced to close by the Governor’s orders, many of us worried and wondered what would happen with our favorite places to eat and watering holes. The restaurants that were able to quickly pivot and offer take out and delivery were better prepared to weather the storm, whereas bars and special event establishments were cut off at the knees.

Many of us, as consumers, tried to do our part to continue to eat from our favorite places, and while it helped take the edge off of the pain of their loss of income, for most restaurants it only covered the costs of running the kitchen. No profits were being made during this time but I’ve heard story after story from owners that they were in awe at the support they did receive and how it renewed their faith in people.

When the state entered into Phase 1 (May 8th) of reopening the state, the food and beverage industry still were unable to do anything but wait and hope that Phase 2 would begin as scheduled on May 22nd. Those that were open during the stay at home period now were able to start formulating a plan of attack on how they would reopen once the new phase began and the Governor laid out the requirements in order to reopen.

As expected, on May 22nd restaurants were able to reopen following certain guidelines: 50% of capacity, guests must be seated at least 6’ apart, increased disinfection during peak times, masks on all employees strongly encouraged (this is NOT required, FYI), and so on. And while you may have thought that every restaurant would have flung their doors open at 5:00 that Friday, the majority of them chose to not open. Opting instead to take a week or more in order to be fully prepared to welcome their guests back. With all the new requirements, it wasn’t going to be as simple as turning the lights on and firing up the grill.

Staff had to be trained on how to safely operate under the new guidelines. The restaurant itself had to go through a deep and thorough cleaning. Tables had to be removed or blocked off. Distancing markers had to be placed in high traffic areas. Many owners have also opted to go through the free training offered by the state called Count On Me NC – “a mutual pledge and public health initiative that empowers guests and businesses to help keep everyone safe and protected”. In many instances, 

menus had to be completely overhauled due to a national shortage on food. In early May the CEO of USFoods even issued a statement to the industry – be prepared to offer a limited menu compared to what you had before.

If you haven’t ventured out to eat in a restaurant yet, here’s what you can expect: Smaller menu options, fewer seating options, throw away menus, no condiments on the table, no preset table settings, longer cook times, longer wait times, no waiting for your table in the lobby, very little interaction with the staff, time limitations on how long you can sit at your table. The atmosphere is definitely not as joyful which, to me, is a big part of going out to eat – almost as much as the food experience.

When you do finally head out, please remember to have patience and be kind. The food and beverage industry is a stressful one in ‘normal’ times and right now is far from normal thus increasing the stress level. If you can make a reservation, do so. It will cut down on the frustration of having to wait for a table. Respect the time limit on how long you can be there – restaurants depend on turning tables over in order to make a profit. It’s going to take a while for them to recover from the lockdown and being reduced to 50% capacity makes turning a profit an uphill battle. And of course – tip your servers very well.