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6 Things You're Used to Seeing in Chain Restaurants That May Go Away

These beloved staples may soon be relics of the past.

Going out to chain restaurants feel comfortable—we love them for their predictability and nostalgia. While they have updated their looks over the years, these restaurants still offer up a consistent experience each time we visit. Yet with so much change happening due to the coronavirus pandemic, it seems all kinds of chain restaurant changes are happening.

Coronavirus signaled a myriad of changes across all aspects of life, but one of the most apparent after-effects lies in our dining experience, especially when we visit chain restaurants. The days of meeting big groups of friends for a Friday night out or even a late-night bite after a concert or show is long gone. As we move forward into the unknown, many elements of these casual eateries have to change in order to fit with new health code standards in the wake of COVID-19. And as restrictions continue to loosen, these experiences and amenities we took for granted may no longer exist in the post-COVID world.

Buffets and salad bars

variety food buffet

Nothing feels as American as going to an all-you-can-eat buffet like Golden Corral or your neighborhood Chinese buffet. Even if you never liked these big buffets, you probably have treated yourself to an endless salad bar option at a casual family restaurant. With the onset of coronavirus, these restaurant options no longer fit current health and safety standards and may truly disappear forever.

The future truly looks bleak for this style of eating. Any restaurant that relies on shared utensils and plates can't safely reopen, leaving many to fear that these businesses will shutter forever. The current times require creativity on the part of restaurants to thrive, so we may seem some style of buffet return in the future, but for the time being, we must say goodbye to the days of cafeteria-style eating and endless soup, entrees and desserts.

Waiting indoors for a table


How many times has this happened to you? You arrived at your local sit-down casual restaurant during prime hours, but couldn't get a free table and had to wait a few minutes until your party could get seated. Normally, you could sit in a waiting area inside the restaurant and maybe browse their menu or enjoy a drink from the bar as you passed the time. With social distance restrictions still in place, this luxury might go the way of the dinosaurs.

To avoid unnecessary interactions that might spread the virus, patrons should expect more time spent waiting for their place in line while seated outside in their vehicle. You might also remember receiving vibrating disks from the host or hostess that buzz when your table is ready. We might also see these devices retired, in order to prevent germs from easily spreading on the surfaces.

So where does that leave us? Relying more on notifications from RSVP and online booking services or direct text notifications and calls from the restaurant might be the future. Either way, the days of convenient waiting firmly sit behind us.

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Communal seating

communal table

You probably sit next to strangers at restaurants more than you imagine. Whether you eat on a long counter alongside other patrons at fast-food restaurants or even find yourself between strangers at the bar of a casual family restaurant, we never realize how often we find ourselves shoulder to shoulder with strangers when we are dining out.

We may begin to take notice, as restaurants need to fall in with CDC guidelines, including spacing diners out by at least six feet. This means that we will probably see greatly reduced communal seating and in some cases, restaurants may choose to eliminate them entirely in order to avoid any liability. Pretty soon, expect to really notice all the extra legroom available when communal seating disappears.

Large dining parties

Large dinner party restaurant

Chain restaurants save the day when it comes to seat large parties. If you need to find an eatery that has the capacity to serve an entire little league softball team or an entire extended family who have come to visit, while also accommodating the pickiest eater, chain restaurants fit the bill.

With dining restrictions in place that limit seating six feet apart, this means that many businesses will have a hard time seating large groups together while following the law. At the very least, we can still divide ourselves into an adults and kids table when we need to round up a big family group and eat out, but the days of large office parties or family reunion meals at chain restaurants might have come to an end.

Table condiments

basket of condiments ketchup hot sauce mustard

American restaurants feel iconic because to an extent, we can serve ourselves. Whether we walk into a fast-food restaurant and take our pick from the buckets of ketchup and mustard packets or sit down and help ourselves to salt or sugar out of communal glass bottles, we have always felt like we don't need to bother the staff when it comes to seasoning our meals. As we dine out more, we may notice that these extras won't be as easily accessible.

While some restaurants have spent even more time wiping condiment dispensers down after every use, many businesses have opted to remove them altogether. Bottles of ketchup and hot sauce now have been replaced with disposable packets filled with sauce and instead of grabbing them by the handful out of open containers, restaurants serve them alongside the meal to avoid any unnecessary touching. Until a cure for coronavirus is found, this style of eating may be the future.

Unsealed silverware

restaurant table

When you sit down at any chain restaurant, you expect that you'll have a knife and fork pre-wrapped in a napkin set and folded at the place where you'll sit. Even at fast-food restaurants, we could grab a plastic spoon or fork from a communal dispenser if we needed one. The days of formal placement of a fork and knife (and any other unwrapped utensil) may come crashing to a halt soon in order to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Many restaurants have begun to exclusively serve meals with pre-wrapped plastic silverware sets, eliminating the need for humans to touch every piece of silverware. This change makes for easy disposal and cleanup that puts far fewer humans in harm's way. We might see a return to traditional silverware, but in many cases, expect to enter a brave new era in dining out.

Eat This, Not That! is constantly monitoring the latest food news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed (and answer your most urgent questions). Here are the precautions you should be taking at the grocery store, the foods you should have on hand, the meal delivery services and restaurant chains offering takeout you need to know about, and ways you can help support those in need. We will continue to update these as new information develops. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.
Erich Barganier
Erich Barganier is a health and food writer. Read more about Erich