Should Socially Distant Dining Remain a Thing, Even After the Pandemic?
Pre-pandemic, I would frequently attend media dinners for new restaurants opening in the city. I am a food writer (not a food critic) in Dallas and I often write first-look articles on restaurants, as well as backstories on notable chefs and articles on where to find good deals in the metroplex. Prior to COVID-19, if I weren’t visiting a restaurant anonymously, I would be invited to a tasting in which myself and several other journalists, bloggers, photographers and influencers would sample various food and drinks. At the first media dinner I attended since coronavirus, special social distancing guidelines were in place.
Now, Dallas is known for its abundance of restaurants. Last year, the city was named Restaurant City of the Year by Bon Appétit. So when coronavirus struck, and restaurants and bars were ordered to close, several hundred hospitality industry workers were devastated when they found themselves without work. Additionally, new restaurant openings were put on pause.
Earlier this month, I attended a media dinner for a restaurant that was originally set to open in March. The pre-opening event that was originally set to take place in March would’ve entailed several members of the media inside the restaurant, all having dinner at the same time. Instead, the July event entailed only a select amount of members of the media allowed in the restaurant at one time.
Prior to the dinner, the restaurant’s publicist emailed me, asking for me to RSVP for myself and a plus one for a time of my choice. Reservations were only allowed at 15-minute intervals and a party could only be in the restaurant for 45 minutes.
This particular restaurant was a luxury steakhouse, with multiple dining rooms and seating options. In the first portion of the dinner, my partner and I had wine and smaller versions of appetizers in the restaurant’s bar and lounge area. The restaurant staff was prepared to answer any questions we had. They also took extra steps to ensure our safety, given the current pandemic.
After the first course, we were taken to a different dining room, where we had smaller versions of the main courses. Granted, the food was comped for the media, and it would’ve cost a lot for the restaurant to provide full-size plates for everyone who attended. But even so, the smaller portions were filling, and allowed for us to try a little bit of everything. Even though we were only allotted 15-minutes for each course, we didn’t feel rushed. We didn’t feel like we had to nudge 30 other writers, journalists and influencers for the perfect shot. We were able to enjoy a beautiful view of the city in a calm, socially-distant quiet.
Every personality test I’ve ever taken says that I am an extrovert, but some things are just better without large crowds.
While we were satisfied with the appetizers and the mains, we accepted an offer for dessert, during which we were escorted to a different dining room. While this type of dinner was reserved for the media, it’s certainly optimal for media and guests alike. It is uncertain when restaurants and bars will be able to serve people at full capacity again, but even after, why shouldn’t these social distancing options remain?
Eating different courses in different rooms, offering smaller portions and only allowing guests in certain time intervals fares very well for guests and restaurant staff alike. Guests are able to enjoy a filling meal without feeling weighed down and enjoy each other’s company in peace; restaurant staffers are able to provide guests with undivided attention and not have to worry about serving so many tables in a quick fashion.
There’s no telling how much longer we’ll be in a pandemic or what the new normal for the restaurant industry will look like, but socially distant dining is a new format I hope sticks around even after this is all over.