As the state of Michigan prepares to reopen restaurants at 50% capacity June 8, there’s no question that the scene of eating out will look different.
I live in Downers Grove, Illinois, where outdoor seating has been open for about a week now. So, in order to help prepare my fellow Michiganders for their very own reopening on Monday, I decided to write and reflect on what the restaurant experience was like when I went out for my first post-quarantine dinner.
On the day that outdoor seating reopened, my mom made reservations immediately. She was either hungry that day or real tired of doing the dishes every night for three months. The restaurant we chose was a local one in a town that neighbors mine.
When we arrived that night, the streets of a town that was ghostly quiet two weeks ago were flooded with people — all safely socially distanced, of course.
Restaurants had extended their outdoor seating into the streets and parking lots with tents and traffic cones acting as the new walls of the restaurant.
We checked in and were asked to put our masks on. Tip #1: Bring a mask and keep it handy.
Masks were required anytime we left our table, like if you had to use the restroom or run to your car because you forgot your reading glasses. I’ll get to that later. But as long as you were seated at your table, no mask was required.
Next, our waitress came to us wearing a mask like all of the other workers. She gave us the menus, which looked different because they were on paper instead of printed laminated booklets that could be reused as new guests arrived.
These paper menus were a lot smaller, which brings me back to the reading glasses. Tip #2: Bring them with you. Both my parents struggled trying to read the small text and I had to make a run back to the car to get them a pair.
We got soup as an appetizer, and if you're anything like my family, we put salt and pepper on everything. To our initial surprise, salt and pepper were given to us in individual packets — not as reusable shakers. And when my mom asked for ketchup, they gave her a plastic mini cup filled with some instead of the whole bottle.
Like the menus, I’m sure this was done to reduce the spread of germs that can happen when customers share the same condiments or shakers.
Next came our meals, which might’ve never tasted so good. We went home happy that day — happy to see our town the way we remembered it, happy to be gaining a sense of normalcy and, most prominently, happy to not have to do any dishes that night.
Of course, I’m sure each restaurant will have a different protocol and a different way of keeping their customers safe, but I’m certain my experience will mimic many others'.
I understand many people's worries and fears about going out to eat again. I’ve heard people say they think it's too early to reopen, and I’ve even heard some say they'll never go out to a restaurant again.
These comments bring me to my final point — Tip #3: Go out to eat.
If you are comfortable, I highly recommend going out to eat, especially at local restaurants in your hometown.
As someone who experienced COVID-19 firsthand with a member of my household fighting it, I know the severity of the disease and would never want to catch it myself. However, I felt completely comfortable and safe at the restaurant I visited.
From what I have seen around where I live, restaurants are going above and beyond to make sure their environments are safe, yet still enjoyable for their customers. These businesses have just suffered some of the toughest months in terms of income, and they want to make sure their customers come back once they are given that opportunity.
My restaurant experience was different, yet so normal at the same time. I was happy to see other families enjoying a meal at a table and to see my town returning back to how I usually picture it during the summer months, full of life and people.
So, if you can, go out for a post-quarantine meal once your favorite restaurant reopens. I promise it will give you that feeling of normalcy that has been missing since quarantine began.