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If you don’t count having your temperature taken, signing a health declaration or struggling to converse through a mask as part of your eating out modus operandi, prepare to be surprised when the smoke clears and restaurants reopen post-COVID-19. Though it may sound dramatic, these crazy times have taught us that nothing will ever be the way it once was. As provinces, including Ontario, reveal plans for the eventual reopening of schools, businesses, parks and more, it’s impossible not to wonder what our dining scene will look like post-pandemic.
Amid the uncertainty that the future holds, the fact that the restaurant industry will look very different in a few months is crystal clear. Toronto’s, and Canada’s, restaurant scene is taking a serious hit. According to a survey conducted by Restaurants Canada, a non-profit organization that represents the food industry, 1 in 10 Canadian restaurants have already permanently closed. One out of two independent restaurants surveyed admitted that they may not survive the next three months. More than 800,000 restaurant workers are currently unemployed due to shutdowns. Though many spots have turned their focus to takeout, even selling groceries, it seems that for some this new approach to business simply isn’t enough. Once spoiled for choice, our options for eating out will be drastically reduced in the coming months.
For restaurants that survive, business post-COVID-19 will present a series of unusual hurdles to overcome. “The challenge for the industry,” according to restaurateur Hanif Harji in an interview with Post City Magazine, “is being able to provide people an enjoyable experience without being overly invasive.” If places that have already lifted their lockdown, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, are any indication, restaurants open post-lockdown will need to follow certain social distancing measures to safely conduct business.
An explanation of some of the health and safety precautions being taken in Taipei.
These will include installing plexiglass barriers and signage to manage traffic flow. Restaurants will no longer be filled to capacity, instead running at 50% to allow additional space between diners. Groups will likely be limited to tables of four, at the most. Instead of the usual greeting at the hostess desk, customers will receive downloadable menus and a quick thermal scan to test for fever, a clear sign of infection. It may not feel elegant but disposable tableware may even take over in higher-end spots, to minimize contact and reduce the risk of spreading infection. Touchless payment systems will become the norm. Incredibly, as already seen abroad, some restaurants may even require diners to sign a form confirming their health and their eligibility to dine out. If gloves and masks seem ubiquitous now, they’ll soon be so commonplace that customers will balk at the thought of being served without them. Restaurants will likely see cleaning bills skyrocket as the practice becomes not only necessary but potentially a matter of life and death.
Premier Doug Ford and the Ontario government are currently watching for several criteria to fall into place before they allow any nonessential business to reopen. It will be a slow, hopefully safe endeavour informed by what we’ve learned from countries that have already lifted restrictions. Will we run wild, when freedom calls? Will we hop from place to place, surrounded by friends and family, eating and drinking the dishes and cocktails we’ve dreamt of for months? We won’t. Our first forays out of quarantine will be restrained, tinged with an unnerving sense that we may still be vulnerable. Still, for those who can stomach the new conditions, we urge you to suit up, mask, gloves and all, meet up with your nearest and dearest and raise a glass to how far we’ve come. The new normal may feel bizarre but, if it helps stop a deadly pandemic as it supports local restaurants that have been through so much, it’s a worthwhile place to be.