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Five COVID-Inspired Changes to Restaurants That Should Stay

Christina is a writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles who waits tables as a day job.

COVID hurt restaurant culture. But are there lessons that can be learned from the changes it brought to the restaurant industry?

COVID hurt restaurant culture. But are there lessons that can be learned from the changes it brought to the restaurant industry?

How the Pandemic Has Changed Restaurants for the Better

As we move forward into a precarious pandemic-influenced future, one thing is unmistakable. The old way of doing things is no more.

Humans are supremely adaptable creatures, and perhaps there's no better way to see this than from the point of view of a restaurant server.

As someone who's waited tables for the past 20 years, I can attest to the fact that things are changing rapidly within the restaurant industry due to COVID. During the pandemic, we were constantly having to adjust at a moment's notice.

The "new normal" is that there's no longer a normal. However, a few changes have managed to hold weight, and I, for one, vote they should stick around.

1. The customer is no longer always right.

I'll never know how or why restaurant management grew to believe the customer was always right, but this little "truism" has been challenged, big time. With COVID limitations, continually changing regulations, and a lack of staffing, restaurants are finding they can no longer stick to this principle.

Providing a service doesn't mean the one receiving that service is inherently correct—and as a server, I love this change. It's for the better. It allows for more respect and less entitlement. Not only that, it provides a way for owners to enforce important policies, such as my next point regarding closing time.

2. Closing time means closing time, period.

Pre-pandemic, a restaurant's closing time was like the wild west. While servers clamored to finish sidework and clock out, and while line cooks tried to complete the last of their tickets as they cleaned, managers always tried to please the customers—even if it meant allowing a table of two to sip on cold cups of coffee hours after the doors had shut.

Closing time is what many of us veterans would describe as hell. But during the pandemic, an odd steadiness evolved in this regard. Guests who once lounged after hours are now asked to leave. Those who thought they could enter at closing to have a leisurely meal have learned that the cleaning crew will be joining them. I believe the reason for all this is not to discourage business but to maintain it. With lean staffing, reduction of overtime, changing business hours, and safety concerns, restaurant hours are finally getting the respect they deserve.

3. Customers have learned to cover their mouths when coughing and sneezing.

I know, you'd think this would have already been a given for people when dining out, but trust me, it sadly was not. From sneezing on the menu you're about to hand back to me to coughing out loud for all to hear, customers are finally becoming aware of these bodily functions. It's a straight-up beautiful thing I, for one, hope this new self-awareness never disappears.

4. Customers have a new respect for the staff's personal space.

For some reason, many people once thought it was acceptable to invade a server's personal space, whether it be grabbing them by the arm or touching their shoulder, or just getting right up in their face to explain what they want. It's borderline abusive, but it has all gone to the wayside ever since the pandemic hit. Sure, we don't always have to stand six feet apart in the future, but let's keep sticking to a bit of distance, especially with the touching.

5. We've discovered the joys of dining al fresco.

It has been amazing to see the abundance of outside dining areas constructed to deal with dining outdoors. Despite weather and location challenges, restaurants continue to make it happen, and diners are rolling with the adjustments.

From NYC's dining bubbles to DC's private igloos to dining on street platforms in Los Angeles, restaurants are getting creative with outdoor spaces. From a server's point of view, it's lovely to be outside. People seem to enjoy themselves more with nature as their background rather than walls lined with liquor bottles and service stations. Dining al fresco throughout the nation is a trend that we should all hope stays.

Will These Changes Stick?

The restaurant industry is not going anywhere, despite the momentous shift in the way we do things. From the side of optimism and positivity, COVID has allowed for change to come from the ground up. While obstacles will continue materializing, why not embrace these good aspects that have emerged from the dust?

© 2021 Christina Parisi