- One of the things I missed the most about life before the pandemic was dining out.
- So when Seattle allowed restaurants to reopen their dining rooms, I jumped at the chance to sit down for a nice meal prepared by somebody other than myself.
- I went to RockCreek Seafood & Spirits, an upscale seafood restaurant in Fremont that was one of the few restaurants to reopen days after the announcement took effect.
- Even with distanced tables, masked staff members, and an abridged menu, my dinner out captured the same mundane joy that dining out always used to bring me.
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Early on in the pandemic, I’d sometimes curl into the fetal position and sob into a pillow thinking about all the things I missed from the before times. Hugs from friends, living-room movie nights, clinking glasses in a crowded pub. But perhaps most of all, I missed dining out.
Many of us took the experience of eating at a restaurant for granted before the pandemic snatched it away. And for this restaurant reporter, the cataclysmic effects of the pandemic on the restaurant industry unfolded in excruciatingly clear 4K resolution.
Eighty-five per cent of independent restaurants may not make it to the end of this year. That’s your mum-and-pop diner, your go-to Thai kitchen, your neighbourhood pizza parlor, your family-owned Mexican restaurant with the amazing lunch special.
So when Seattle allowed restaurants to reopen dining rooms at limited capacity, I jumped at the chance to sit down for a dinner prepared by someone other than myself. Only a handful of restaurants reopened near me, so we went to RockCreek Seafood & Spirits, an upscale seafood restaurant suggested by my boyfriend’s coworker.
We waited outside for the other members of our dining party to arrive for our 8 p.m. reservation. RockCreek had socially distanced its patio tables for outdoor diners, but its efforts were thwarted by Seattle’s incessant rain.
As we entered, we each stopped by the door at a shiny new automatic dispenser to baptize ourselves in hand sanitizer.
Inside, tables were few and far between, and all staff members were wearing surgical masks. We were the last seating for RockCreek’s first night open, and the restaurant was mostly full to its 25%-capacity limit.
We were given disposable paper menus, which diners should expect to be the norm for a while. The menu was much shorter than RockCreek’s usual dinner menu, and our waiter, Alex, kindly informed us that they were out of several items.
RockCreek still gave us communal carafes and reusable utensils, however, while many restaurants have done away with any shared equipment.
We ordered two shaved-cauliflower salads for a party of four. One party member, who is a regular at RockCreek, noted that the salads had fewer ingredients than usual.
Many restaurants are simplifying their menus in response to the pandemic. Lower demand means some items just aren’t worth the effort they require to be kept on the menu. At about 8:30 p.m., Alex let us know that the kitchen would soon close.
Even McDonald’s has simplified its menu for the time being, most notably ending its all-day breakfast.
Alex said that coming back to work felt almost like starting a new job. Though the surgical mask gets hot, Alex said, “it’s nice to have a sense of normalcy.”
Still, Alex expressed concern about the future of the restaurant: “I’m really worried about the owners. We can’t survive on 25%, 50%, or even 75% capacity.”
Learning of the restaurant’s dire financial situation, I felt a little bit less mad at myself for spending $US14 on a plate of mussels, delicious though they were.
Oh, the fiscal dangers of going out to eat with three software engineers. Beware, ye who do not earn six-figure salaries!
It felt strange and a little out of touch to slurp down these tender and buttery $US14 mussels as more important things were happening around the world. Perhaps restaurant dinners during a pandemic always come with a side of guilt.
But for the most part, I was surprised at how natural every motion felt, from scanning the menu to picking up my fork and knife to sipping a cocktail from a glass I’d never keep in my own cupboard.
Even with everything happening in the world, the dinner table felt like a joyful bubble where only the mundane mattered.
The most familiar part came at the end with the bill. Mussels slurped and cocktails sipped, we began the unwieldy democratic process of splitting our check four ways.
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