In April, Georgia officially became the first state to allow restaurants to open its doors to dine-in customers since quarantine restrictions went into effect in March. The move represented perhaps the first domino to fall in what will eventually be a slow easing of those restrictions across the country in the weeks and months ahead.
As you can imagine, the world of dining will look very different, and, as The New York Times reports, restaurateurs in the U.S. have been looking to Asia recently for examples of how restaurants in those countries have handled reopenings. How will seating be rearranged? What will menus look and feel like? How would they advise customers to handle wearing masks while at the same time trying to eat? Luckily, the National Restaurant Association (NRA), with feedback from the FDA, CDC, and Prevention and Environmental Protection Agency, has released a 10-page guide for restaurants to follow to ensure that all staff and customers are safe.
Of course, you can expect that many of the fixtures you've known to exist in restaurants forever will likely vanish in the name of safety and proper sanitization. If you're curious to know what some of them are, read on—we've listed them here. And for more on the effects of COVID-19 on the world of dining, don't miss this glimpse of What Going to a Restaurant in a Post-COVID-19 World Will Look Like.
Preset table settings
You're probably used to strolling up to your table and seeing a perfectly set table waiting for you. That may not be the case anymore. "Consider using rolled silverware and eliminating table presets," says one recommendation.
In an effort to reduce the things that many customers may wish to touch, the NRA has advised that restaurants remove unwrapped straws from "self-service drinks stations," whether that's at the corner of a restaurant bar or at the milk-and-sugar area of your favorite coffee shop.
Menus that aren't paper or easily cleanable
In an effort to reduce the further contact, the NRA has advised that restaurants either sanitize their menus after every use or to adopt paper menus that will be thrown away promptly after each use. In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp had this advice to restaurants: "The use of disposable paper menus is strongly encouraged."
From the guidelines circulated by Georgia's Gov. Kemp: "Discontinue use of salad bars and buffets."
Lemons and limes at drink stations
Just as the guidelines encourage restaurants to do away with unwrapped straws, they advise against those little tubs of cut fruit that are in reach of paying customers, as well.
Self-serve soda dispensers
The self-serve soda fountain has been a fixture in fast-food and fast-casual dining establishments for years. Perhaps not any longer. According to new reports, upwards of 15,000 Burger King, Popeye's, and Tim Horton's locations across North America are banishing them for the sake of safety. Even McDonald's followed suit. We can expect that this policy will expand to other chains.
Condiments at your table
The days of having a ketchup bottle on your diner table (or a syrup bottle on your table at IHOP) could be gone. More likely, you'll get smaller, individual packets of ketchup, mustard, and the like.
Waiters without face masks
You can't wear a face mask while eating, but your server will have to wear one every time they greet you. The CDC recommends that restaurant employees wear "a cloth face covering."
It's one of the enduring appeals of dining out: squeezing into a crowded and deafeningly loud restaurant with mobs of other patrons. This is likely a thing of the past. Restaurants are having to limit the number of customers to reduce contact and to ensure everyone's safety. To make up for fewer customers streaming into their front doors, many restaurants will be relying more on alfresco dining to bolster their revenue. (In fact, some restaurants have even turned to fake mannequins to give you that old "packed restaurant" feel!)
Whatever the restaurant of the future looks like, it's a good bet that enormous, shoulder-to-shoulder crowds are—for a long time, at least—a thing of the past. And for more on how COVID-19 is impacting the dining world, see how these 7 beloved restaurant chains may not survive.