Reopening Restaurant Blues

by artfuldiner on May 26, 2020

in Breaking News, Opinion, Special Events, Wining and Dining

Restaurants ReopeningI’m sure that most people – this writer included – after weeks of confinement, social distancing, and picking up curbside orders to go, are looking forward to getting back out and having dinner in their favorite restaurant once again.

But for those anticipating the hoopla of restaurant grand reopenings, prepare yourselves for disappointment. When restaurants in our area do begin reopening their dining rooms, patrons will be confronted with servers wearing masks and/or gloves. Diners themselves may also be asked to wear masks, removing them to eat and drink. And how will guests feel about dining out if they must submit to temperature checks at the door?

Sound appetizing…? Not particularly. As Kim Severson of the New York Times put it: “Is the urge to sit in a restaurant so great that customers will endure an experience that is more like a trip to the dental hygienist? Will they risk infection, even in a place with the safest protocols?”

Restaurant Reopening 2Meanwhile, restaurant owners have their own problems to contend with… Like keeping patrons spaced at least six-feet apart, using disposable menus, stocking single-serve condiments, sanitizing and re-sanitizing after customers depart, and trying to figure out how to maintain social distancing for employees in the tight confines of commercial kitchens.

Then there’s the not insignificant matter of finances… State governors are currently mandating that reopening restaurant dining rooms may only operate at 50% of capacity… some as low as 25%. Needless to say, opening doors with that limited capacity will probably not allow most restaurants to remain in business for very long, unless they can supplement their razor-thin profit margins with a second source of revenue – namely, alcohol. Which means, unfortunately, that many of the 300 independently-owned BYOB restaurants scattered around the Philadelphia area could very well be facing extinction.

On the other hand, even if establishments find it economically feasible to reopen – and remain so – there is certainly no guarantee that members of the general public will feel safe enough to show up in sufficient numbers to sustain restaurant recovery.  As of the end of April, according to a survey by SAP’s Qualtrics, the employee management software company, 68% of Americans said they would feel uncomfortable eating at a restaurant. These misgivings may change in the coming months, of course. However, at the present moment, I must confess that I’m not terribly keen on the idea myself.

Restaurant Image, GeneralBut according to Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, “Building up the courage to return to restaurants may be one of the most essential elements to returning to normal… Restaurants can serve as a confidence bellwether for Americans who are dipping their toes back into normal society.”

True enough. And “Reopening is the way forward, there can be no doubt,” writes Chris Westfall in a recent article in Forbes. “Here’s hoping that we do so safely and in a way that protects small business owners, workers and the folks who just want to grab a little dinner. In reaching for prosperity, pub owners could get crushed in the process. Because, right now, restaurants have more than bad Yelp reviews to consider. A lot more.”

Bon Appétit?????


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