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What Will Change About Dining Out After COVID-19?

It has now been eight weeks since one of the United State’s most populous cities enacted a shelter-in-place mandate in response to the Coronavirus pandemic. California, with the largest economy of any state, has been shut down for nearly as long. While people around the country are just getting used to staying home full time, some locations like Georgia are already looking to reopen restaurants and other businesses. While there are still more questions than answers about what dining out will look like post COVID-19, we can look around the nation and the globe for clues as to how business owners and regulators will handle the increased need for space and sanitation. asked some experts to weigh in on what restaurants are doing, what regulators are planning, and what we can look forward to in the coming months as we all try to get back to normal.

One of the most obvious and difficult things that restaurants and hospitality businesses will have to do going forward is to create more space between dining parties. While this may be OK in some diners that have ample room, real estate prices in metropolitan areas will make reduced seating “unlikely to be sustainable”. Restaurants are being asked to leave at least 6 feet of space between parties, even more than is normally required for wheelchair accessible paths. The alternatives are hardly better. When photos emerged of a “diner divider” being tested in Rome, they pictured a shocking scene, with diners wearing masks, gloves and separated by a plexiglass divider. Some experts believe that we'll even see restaurants rated on how well they implement whatever new protocols regulators may decide to implement.

Other changes are less disruptive on the surface, but still jarring. Barriers separating different booths are more in line with what Americans are accustomed to when dining out at casual restaurants. Signing a release form however, is not something we are generally used to doing at a restaurant. As reports, Hong Kong-based Black Sheep Restaurants has a two pronged approach; all diners must sign a “Health Declaration Form” with their contact information, so that they can be reached if a confirmed case is linked back to the restaurant. Diners will also have their temperatures checked before being seated. Most guests will probably understand these precautions, but given that some Americans are protesting the movement restrictions in place across the country, many guests are likely to be put off by the measures.

Then there is the other problem facing restaurants and hospitality businesses; will people even want to dine out? We know that it will take awhile for restaurants to adapt to new regulations and best practices, how long will it take consumers to regain confidence and feel safe moving through public spaces? Only time will tell on that one.