I Went Out To Eat At A Restaurant, And Things Are Definitely Not Back To Normal
Photo credit: Sarah Silbiger - Getty Images
As more and more states open up, we are all faced with a prospect that we haven't had in months: going to a restaurant. In my life before COVID-19 and socially isolated, I went out to eat a few times a week - that's basically my job - but now the concept seems kind of strange to me. I recently went out to eat and it was nice to get some normalcy, but ... things are still not "normal".
I've been very careful since the pandemic hit the US, but when a friend said she wanted to meet in Greensboro, NC, I decided to take the plunge. I looked for restaurants to dine in and chose the Green Valley Grill next to the O. Henry Hotel and the Friendly Center.
It was pretty crowded when I arrived, and because I haven't been with people for a while, except for the occasional visit to a grocery store, I had a moment to notice that things are still not "normal". I wondered why so many people were there and realized - wait, I'm part of it too. I finally found a parking space, grabbed my face mask and mask, and went inside.
When I got to the restaurant, someone was waiting outside who kept the door closed and, I learned later, checked how many people could enter the waiting area at the same time. When I walked into the lobby, I saw a group of people waiting in the door, and I wasn't sure what to do because I didn't want to line them up. When I looked down, I saw that small drawings of feet were on the floor to encourage social distancing. I went up and put my feet up to wait until I spoke to the host. But the problem was, I was apparently the only one who followed the rules.
While I usually went straight to the hostess and let her know that I had a reservation, I was firmly in place as I watched person by person walk in front of me and sit down. COVID taught me not only to be patient, but also that the risk of meeting a crowd to cause a stench is probably not worth it.
I watched people fill the lobby and finally asked a group in front of me if they were waiting to take a seat. They seemed to register what was happening and went on, so that I finally had the opportunity to go to the hostess's desk. I explained with a smile that people seemed a little confused about how things worked. She reminded me that we are all adapting, which is understandable.
Another thing that I will notice, along with another group, is that apart from the restaurant staff, I was the only one wearing any type of face covering. Of course you can't eat with a mask, so I was wondering how to do it. You'd think that if people weren't wearing masks, they would be very diligent about social distancing, but that wasn't really the case. When you go out to eat, it is important to remember that you cannot control other people. You should be ready for others not to be as hardworking as you may be.
I was taken to my place where I noticed that the tables were further apart and there were new glass partitions between them. Things were cleaned very thoroughly. I noticed that throughout the meal, the workers did everything that definitely contributed to my peace of mind.
There was another problem that I could never have predicted ... how should I pull out my seat? Should I pull it out and wash my hands? Then I would just have to pull it out again! Should I ask for help? I decided to just pull out the seat and dip my hands in the hand sanitizer and hope for the best.
My friend texted me to let me know that she was told to wait outside so that she could control the capacity. When she finally arrived at the table, we thought, how do we greet each other now? Hugs are out of the question, and I noticed that a group in the lobby made a kind of elbow joint that will now prevail! I decided to avoid any awkwardness by saying, "Wow, isn't it so strange that we can't hug each other ?!" That seemed to be working well.
Another difficult thing for me, as someone who loves to order everything on the menu so the table can be divided, is ... sharing becomes much more difficult if you try not to touch things. We decided to give it a try anyway and ordered truffle fries with aioli. We asked everyone for their own container of aioli so that we could double freely. When I put my share of fries on my own plate, I decided that this was an asset because hey, who doesn't love an excuse to have extra spices?
We enjoyed our meals (I had crab cakes, asparagus, corn, and nice sauce, and my friend had a chicken salad croissant for those who were wondering!), Sat at the table, chatted, and received the bill along with a small box. When we opened it, there was a fresh pen with which we could sign our bill. That was the finishing touch to the whole experience as the restaurant staff worked hard throughout our meal to make everyone feel good, the restaurant feels clean and safe and it is a pleasant experience worth it, the safety to leave your house for.
What I would most like to drive home is that this is new to all of us and when you go out to eat you should be prepared for it. Restaurants have limited capacity to deal with new rules, and their employees introduce themselves to the public every day after being unable to work from home during the pandemic. The least we can do is make it easier for them by being patient and tipping them well.
If you plan to go out for a meal yourself, I would recommend calling in advance and making a reservation. This not only helps the restaurant plan in advance how much food it will take for the day, but can also guarantee you get a place where only certain tables are open. When you call, you should briefly ask for guidelines on masks, restaurant access, etc. This can help you know better what to expect. I would also say that if your favorite restaurant opens today, you might want to wait two weeks to visit it.
I'm glad I broke the ice and went back to a restaurant. It's all brand new for everyone, and these restaurants will find out and everyone else will find out. The experience will only improve with the excellent hospitality I have received. The least we can do is to help support these restaurants as much as possible as they find out.
Carisha Swanson is the market director for House Beautiful. She is always looking for her next gourmet and design-related travel adventure, drinking a nice dash of bourbon or a perfectly poured martini or looking for my dream home in Mexico / North Carolina.
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