The Covid-19 pandemic has definitely shaken up how we live and work today with remote work arrangements, cashless payment methods, online shopping portals, and food delivery apps becoming part of the new normal. Governments worldwide have been exhorting people to stay home and step out only when absolutely necessary to avoid the spread of the coronavirus.
The food and beverage sector is among the industries hard-hit by the pandemic – alongside air travel, tourism, and hospitality. Some countries, however, have permitted businesses under these hard-hit sectors to operate (albeit with health protocols in place.) A good number of restaurants here in the Philippines have closed down during the 30-day enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) implemented last March until May, and the initial modified ECQ (MECQ) that lasted a fortnight. But with the more relaxed general community quarantine (GCQ) in place since June 1, some of these joints have reopened and are now accepting dine-in customers.
(AUTHOR’S NOTE 1: As of August 3, Metro Manila is now under modified enhanced community quarantine [MECQ] again starting from August 4 until August 18. With the new declaration – restaurants are officially closed again for dine-in, with only delivery and take-away permitted.)
Now that people are starting to adjust to the post-pandemic new normal, how will this change the way we eat out? What can we expect from restaurants after Covid-19?
Restaurants will now require customers to write down their name and contact information in a physical form or logbook, with a digital option (via QR code) available for minimal contact. This is performed even before diners step inside the restaurant premises.
Common questions for health declaration and contact tracing forms include any known symptoms of Covid-19 you have experienced, places you visited when you went outside your home, any close contact with a known Covid-19 case, etc. A temperature check is usually done whilst these forms are being filled up, and when diners register a temperature higher than 37 degrees Celsius, the restaurant can refuse them entry.
Physical distancing measures such as reduced seating capacity and table blocking (to ensure no face-to-face seating) are some of the minimum requirements set by health authorities for restaurants to operate. However, some go the extra mile to ensure utmost protection for their diners. Acrylic barriers shield the other side of tables from any saliva droplets that may land on the surface. Once diners finish eating and leave, both barrier and table are disinfected for the next customer.
In addition, restaurant staff are also given acetate film face shields (aside from masks) for an extra layer of protection. Health experts recommend the use of BOTH face mask AND face shield, but using A FACE SHIELD ALONE (sans any mouth covering) IS ABSOLUTELY DISCOURAGED.
Gone are the days when people would just point at items on a physical menu whilst a restaurant staff member lists down their orders. Today, restaurants would usually post a QR code of the place’s menu for diners to scan. A wait staff will only approach once customers have finalized what they want to order and to double-check if the correct items were listed down.
Alternatively, some would provide a dedicated order sheet listing down all menu items. Customers will then write down how many orders of a certain dish they want, alongside any particular requests for that dish. This kind of ordering system has been in place in some restaurants way before the pandemic struck, and local all-you-can-eat buffet joint Vikings has adopted this scheme when it resumed operations.
Before the pandemic, spoons and forks were already set up on diners’ tables ready for use. My parents would usually wipe these down with tissue paper before eating, brought about by force of habit. It’s a different story now: restaurant staff will only bring utensils and paper towels in bags, already sanitized before putting them inside for sanitary purposes.
Utensils exposed to open environments tend to collect viruses and other pathogens, and the coronavirus tends to stay for long periods on stainless steel. People wouldn’t want to have a taste of Covid-19 when they eat out! Some establishments even encourage diners to bring their own utensils for absolute peace of mind. However, if you do plan on bringing your own utensils – you have to sanitize them yourself beforehand.
Existing health protocols in dining establishments already address the distance concerns playing a factor in the spread of Covid-19. Long periods without a mask, however, make customers more susceptible to inhaling any respiratory droplets from possibly asymptomatic carriers also dining in.
Thus, restaurants are encouraging people to avoid loitering within the enclosed space of the establishment after finishing their meals. That means no more post-meal chatting for a good number of us. In the end, staying home is definitely safer. While there are food delivery apps such as GrabFood, LalaFood, and Foodpanda for home delivery, these tend to be a bit more expensive as you pay a premium on convenience.
With no proven vaccine or cure in sight, the world still has a long way to go in fighting Covid-19. For the meantime, however, it is always best to follow health and safety protocols put in place by governments and private establishments. Wear a mask when going outside for necessary supply runs, wash and sanitize your hands frequently, and observe a 1-meter distance between you and the next person.
It should be kept in mind that any loosened guidelines are mainly done so to kick-start the economy after months of lockdowns; people should not lower their guards as the intangible foe is still around.
Until the next post, stay safe!
(AUTHOR’S NOTE 2: All the pictures here were taken last July 31, back when Manila was still under the more relaxed GCQ. I went out to accomplish some errands and paperworks that have been pending ever since the initial March lockdown. Just so you know, both restaurants I dined at during that trip – UCC Park Café at Eastwood Mall and Café Mary Grace at SM Fairview – followed health protocols to a T.)