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The New Age of Dining: Is The Customer Still Aways Right?

After months of at home meals and curbside pickup, so many people are eagerly awaiting the moment they can leave those takeout boxes behind and head out to break bread at a lovely, local restaurant with family and friends. Dining out is about so much more than the food – it’s also a fun and social experience with other people. But before you head for the door, please keep in mind that dining out will be a bit different as establishments do their absolute very best to help avoid the spread of COVID-19. (They want to do the right thing to instill customer confidence and they want to avoid citations and fines.) There are a few new rules for all of us to follow to make sure everyone has as enjoyable, comfortable and stress-free time as possible. And that should be the goal – for everyone to have an enjoyable time!

First, the customer is no longer always right. If you can’t or won’t follow the rules, you should rethink going out in the first place. Vocal disappointment about disposable utensils, menus and napkins instead of cutlery, leather-bound menus and crisp white napkins, visible eyerolls about temperature-taking, and staunch refusals to properly wear a mask don't enhance anyone’s dining experience. Now don’t get us wrong, we know some people simply don’t like these new protocols – we know no one who loves them. But the reality is private establishments are allowed to set the rules for their operation. So, if you want to politely head out, then you need to follow the new rules.

Call ahead. It’s best to make a reservation so that your group doesn’t create a small crowd as you wait for a table. Be on time for your reservation. Not only is it the polite thing to do, it also helps the restaurant properly space diners and accommodate as many parties as possible. Restaurants are not able to operate at full capacity – every table helps them regain financial footing. Unfortunately, we will be having faster-paced meals – but that doesn’t mean you should eat quickly (one does not scarf down their food). This means, that the days of lingering with some delicious after-dinner drinks are gone -for now (let’s hope this is temporary). When making the reservation, politely ask how long you have the table for. Don’t make a scene if the restaurant’s bar area isn’t open and you’re unable to have a cocktail while waiting for your table.

Respect social distancing boundaries. Patiently wait where the service staff direct you to wait. Don’t crowd the hostess area or inadvertently encroach on other groups. And if you see a friend across the patio or the room, a friendly wave may be more appropriate than heading over and crowding the area where their table is located. If no one is sitting near them, feel free to stop by to say “hello”. But if there are other tables nearby (albeit it properly spaced), you should be mindful of your actions. You want to avoid making others uncomfortable by crowding their area. Social distance has changed the way we should properly approach others in public.

Your outfit will include a mask, if your restaurant requires it. The most polite way to wear a mask or face covering is to do so when not seated at their dining table. This means a mask is to be properly worn when one enters the restaurant, walks to their table, or otherwise walks through the seating area, when, for example going to the powder room. Restaurant owners have a right to refuse service to those who refuse to wear a mask. If you don’t want to wear a mask, or don’t want to correctly wear it (don’t let it fall below your nose), then you shouldn’t go out. You are not an exception to the rules the restaurant or your locality set.

And when you take your mask off – don’t put it directly on the table - ick! Ideally, you’ll bring a small bag to place it in and put that on your lap, under your napkin. This way when you see your server approaching (to take your order and bring out dishes) you can quickly put it on as a sign of respect toward them. They have to wear one for your safety, so it is nice to return their kindness. When ordering speak up so you can be heard through the mask (and the server doesn’t need to lean in to hear you). After you are finished eating, your mask should go back on because you know they’ll soon be arriving to clear plates and deliver the check.

One silver-lining in all of this is that restaurants are no longer likely to ask servers to refold your napkin and place it on the table when you excuse yourself from the table but plan to return. In the past, restaurants did this in an attempt to be more attentive to customers but it’s misguided and inappropriate. Remember, when excusing yourself mid-meal but you plan to return, your napkin should be loosely gathered and left on the seat of the chair. Place it back on your lap upon your return. When you are leaving the table for good (at the end of the meal), loosely gather your napkin and place it to the left of your plate. If your plate has been removed, leave your napkin in the spot where your plate was.

Be considerate of and patient toward your server. Try to coordinate your requests to them with the rest of your table so that they don’t have to keep coming back and forth for drinks or other requested items. Don’t be surprised if your server doesn’t stop by the table as often as they used too. They are trying to limit interaction. Understand that they aren’t trying to be inattentive.

Tip as generously as you can – and when you can, tip more than the traditional amounts during this time. We recommend at least 25 to 30% if you are eating on the premises (15-20% if you’re doing delivery or curbside pickup). Servers are risking their health to help the restaurant reopen, serve you, and get the economy running again.

Lastly, this advice applies pandemic or not – you never want to be that unruly dining companion who gets unnecessarily upset or argues with service staff because you don’t like whatever situation you find yourself in. We are entering a new era of restaurant dining – for how long, who knows – so maintain your graciousness at all times. Be positive and fun when you’re out and about. No one wants to be around a constant complainer. While things may indeed go wrong as re-openings occur, one should never be rude to anyone working at a restaurant (or anyone for that matter). Restaurant employees are the ones who are left to enforce awkward new social distancing and mask rules – so graciously comply with their requests. And on the flip-side, if you’re so worried about other patrons not following guidelines for social distancing and face masks that you constantly talk to the service staff about it, maybe you aren’t quite ready to venture out yet - curbside and delivery are your friends.

Everyone is adjusting to evolving public health guidelines and restaurants are trying to stay in business. Please make sure you bring your manners and a positive attitude with you as you head out the door and into our new world of dining out!


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