No one wants a repeat of 2020, but a diner can find silver linings in some of the many restaurant changes resulting from the pandemic. Here are six shifts worth making permanent:
Cocktails to go: Bartenders made life more worth living — and bags of takeout splashier — by pouring their craft into plastic pouches, glass apothecary bottles and other flasks. Added value: Instead of trashing the containers, some customers are repurposing them as condiment or dressing jars.
Finessed hygiene: Hand sanitizer at the host stand and the table is the new flowers. Let’s hold on to the reminders to keep clean. Some establishments are even making sanitizers chic by offering the product in cologne spritzers. Like yesterday’s matchbooks, they make for good branding.
Takeout from everywhere: Not just Chinese and pizza, as before, but high-end cooking, too, often personalized with handwritten notes, gratis sweets, even suggested playlists — the sort of fillips you might get when you eat in a dining room. Chefs who tested their wares for endurance learned what travels well and what does not. Wins all around — and a world more choices.
Year-round outdoor dining: Restaurateurs feared cold weather but responded to diners’ desires with greenhouses, tents, igloos, yurts, blankets, fire pits and other heaters. Customers learned to dress for the elements — it’s all about layering, right? — and came to enjoy the sense of community and shared adventure. Please, bring back B.Y.O.B — Bring Your Own Blanket.
Well-spaced tables: Pools of space between diners might not be great for restaurants’ bottom lines, but customers appreciate the elbow room and sense of privacy. Diners need to know that the safety accommodation is likely going to affect menu prices. Expect to pay more for meals. Also, say goodbye to eavesdropping. Then again, food in America has been too cheap for too long, and really, we should not be acting like Gladys Kravitz.
Respect: Customers have been showing it — and restaurant workers have been enjoying it — as never before. In a sentiment echoed by many of his peers, chef Brendan L’Etoile of the new Cafe Colline in Arlington, Va., says, “I hope the appreciation of the work we do sticks around.” When I think of first responders, restaurant workers come close to doctors, nurses and others who tend to our well-being.
Design by Christian Font. Art direction by Clare Ramirez.