America | Culture | Travel

Dining Out in a Pandemic

Going out for dinner in the midst of a pandemic, at least in places where people are responsible and informed, requires a shift into the “new normal”.  I’ve dined at restaurants in Massachusetts, New York and New Hampshire since restaurants began opening up again in this new normal, and I’ve taken time to observe a few things.  Before I dive in, count me among the true believers in responsible social behavior at all times, but especially now.  If you’re too casual with your behavior around social distancing, mask wearing and cleaning your hands, I make a mental note of it.  You have a right to your opinion, but mine counts too, and if you aren’t taking measures to prevent people from catching something you might have I simply won’t do business in your establishment.

Restaurants offer much more outdoor seating than before, which somewhat makes up for the fewer and more distanced tables inside.  Everyone who walks around inside the restaurant is supposed to be wearing a mask, and it seems most everyone follows that rule, whether staff or patrons.  The gray area is the outdoor seating, where some people aren’t sure whether to wear a mask or not.  I think the rule is pretty clear: keep your mask while you’re on the property of the restaurant until you’re backside is planted in the seat they offer you.  Simple, right?  In Massachusetts and New York, the rules are clear: wear the mask or don’t go into the restaurant.  In New Hampshire, the more Libertarian “Live Free or Die” state, it’s more like a strong suggestion.  And behavior reflects this.  I saw several people walk in for a table without a mask on, many in high risk categories.  The staff wore masks at an Italian restaurant I got take-out at, but a few of the servers had the mask tucked below their nose.  Noted.

The only place that I’ve had my temperature taken before entering was at the dentist.  Getting a haircut everyone wore masks, but there was no screening of patrons.  I checked in to my first hotel since the pandemic began and noticed the rooms are cleaned and sterilized better and the free coffee is no longer in the lobby, but there’s no screening of guests for fever.  That’s been my experience with restaurants as well.  That’s a lot to ask of a small business.  People expect you to self-screen yourself if you’re sick, and aren’t turning people away based on having a fever (if you aren’t screening how would you know anyway?).  Taking a temperature isn’t perfect anyway, and I don’t believe it should be required in most places.  I’d hope that someone who was obviously sick would be politely refused entry should they be bold enough to try.

The northeast United States was hit by a wave of COVID-19 early, which locked down many businesses.  We tend to believe science over rhetoric around here, and most people have flipped to wearing masks as the price of entry into that new normal.  Restaurants have pivoted too, and most are doing what they can to be open and profitable in this pandemic.  No more buffets, no more candy dishes at the cash register, no more packed restaurant bar full of patrons waiting for their table (wait outside until your table is ready).  But the ones that survived are largely open for business again.  That’s dining in the northeast – follow the rules or go home.  Americans generally don’t like rules and people telling us what to do.  But we’ve all seen what happens when you just open up with no regard for the virus.  Spikes in Florida, Texas, Arizona and other states, even in the heat of summer (sorry, another incorrect Trump statement) are indicative of the danger of COVID-19.  By now we know the drill, this isn’t February people.  So act accordingly.  Eat out and support local businesses, but do it responsibly.

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