Restaurants in Western Canada have reopened and the rest of the country (fingers crossed) will be bouncing back soon. But the new dining experience – with its masked servers, routine temperature checks and tables spaced two metres apart – is not business as usual and will require new rules of etiquette. After eating out in Vancouver for the last two weeks, here are my tips for post-pandemic table manners.
Do… Watch the clock
For many of us, the perception of time tumbled into a Twilight Zone during long weeks of social isolation, either slowing to a trickle or flying by at warp speed. Dining out will require a reset. Please do not swan in late for a reservation or dilly-dally over dessert. Restaurants operating at 50 per cent capacity will need to maximize their table-turnover rates more than ever and many are imposing 90-minute seating limits.
Don’t… Be a prime-time diva
Yes, we all prefer to dine at 7 p.m. But “late is okay and early is good, too,” says Alfred Yeung, general manager at Vancouver’s Dynasty Seafood Restaurant. He notes that dining outside of prime time might actually be a more pleasant experience since the kitchen won’t also be juggling all the takeout orders that pile into the same window.
Do… Prepay if possible
Don’t be surprised if you are asked to prepay for dinner or put down a deposit – especially in fine-dining restaurants, which began using the Tock reservation system en masse when transitioning to takeout. Besides discouraging no-shows, a notorious problem in Vancouver, prepayments increase cash flow so restaurants can stock their fridges to feed you. “We’re in the entertainment business and this is no different than paying in advance to go see a movie, concert or hockey game,” says St. Lawrence chef-owner Jean-Christophe Poirier. If not prepaying, consider increasing the tap limit on your credit or debit card. One quick call to the bank will eliminate endless fumbling and sanitizing.
Don’t… Dine in herds
In B.C., many of the new safety guidelines are subject to interpretation, but one rule is firm: Groups are capped at six. If you arrive with more people, your party will be turned away or split up into separate tables. And if your separated parties proceed to mingle during dinner, you will put the restaurant at risk of an infraction – and worse, look like jerks. “There are a lot of narcissists who think the rules don’t apply them,” says Mike Jeffs, owners of Nook restaurant group. “But this is the way it’s going to be.”
Do… Be patient
Now is not the time to be a demanding customer. This is a brave new dining world and restaurants are finessing safety protocols on the fly. The food will likely come out a little slower. Menus will be shorter. Prices might be higher. Servers are not required to refill your water glass. Blankets for cool summer nights on expanded patios cannot be provided. And it’s not always easy to enunciate clearly, let along breathe, through a mask. Those PPEs, by the way, are primarily in place to protect servers, who will be exposed to many more germs than you. So don’t lean in too closely, cut them some slack, be grateful and tip generously.
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