It seemed as if it happened overnight — like some gigantic unseen hand flipped a switch from “PANDEMIC” back to “NORMAL.” At brunch-time on Sunday, June 13, 2021, the many restaurants along Seattle’s Capitol Hill Pike-Pine corridor were bustling with the kind of unmasked, mimosa-toasting crowds that would’ve struck fear into hearts mere weeks ago. Would-be diners approached various host stands, only to be turned away; places were full to the allowed 50% capacity (and some clearly beyond, which very recently would’ve warranted a shudder and/or a report to the health department). On the sidewalks, barefaced citizens strolled right past each other, inhaling and exhaling freely, nary a one crossing the street. No one appeared to even notice the light rain.
No magic is at work here, however — this is science. Seattle’s at the vanguard of COVID-19 vaccination, with 70%-plus now inoculated and ready to resume life as we knew it, including dining out, indoors, even. Our restaurants are set to reopen at full capacity by the end of the month. After a year-plus of isolation and dread, this is legitimate cause for collective celebration. Raise those mimosas or other beverages of choice high! Eating and drinking at local restaurants and bars to the best of our financial ability is a matter of civic responsibility now, to help a broken industry heal again.
It’s an industry made up of our friends and neighbors, many of whom risked their health to keep restaurants going for our takeout, outdoor dining and intermittent dine-in pleasure. Some workers endured layoffs, rehiring, layoffs again; some restaurants didn’t make it. The fate of some of our favorite places still hangs in the balance.
With our newfound, newly deep appreciation of the meaning of hospitality — somewhere pleasant to go, amazingly outside your own home, where people bring you deliciousness, treat you with kindness and do your dishes, where others are also gathered as a part of this miraculous thing called life — let’s take a moment to think about how we can do our part, about how to be the best patrons we can be. Here are eight new do’s — and one don’t — for post-pandemic restaurant-going.
DO: Be fully vaccinated. If you’re not, please stay away from restaurants and other places containing other people.
DO: Make reservations. Restaurants are scrambling, dealing with staff shortages and the many steps involved in getting fully up and running again — our failure to plan ahead is not their problem. If you do try walking in, don’t come hangry (that’s hungry-and-angry), and leave time for a wait. (And, corollary: Don’t ghost on your reservation. If you can’t make it, take a minute to cancel, as soon as possible — that way, another party can enjoy your table and contribute in kind.)
DO: Check yourself before you go. Feeling OK? If not, stay home. Keep washing your hands and using hand sanitizer. Cough and/or sneeze into your shirtsleeve, not your hands. One silver lining of a global pandemic can be all of us continuing to be more careful and getting sick lots less. (My mom told me to tell you this. Listen to Mom!)
DO: Observe whatever mask protocol the restaurant currently has in place. Be ready for a new little interaction about it with your server. If they indicate it’s all about your comfort, thank them for their consideration and share your all-vaccinated status. It sounds awkward, but it’ll feel good.
DO: Be kind. The menu may be smaller; the menu may be on your phone. The staff may still be getting back up to speed. Things may be different, or even a little off the rails. Remember: There was just a global pandemic that impacted every person involved with our restaurant experiences today in ways most of us are lucky enough to only be able to poorly imagine. Be patient. Be understanding. Say please. If you have an issue, raise it very, very nicely. Now is not the time to take to Yelp and be mean afterward.
DON’T: Overstay. Restaurants need to turn tables in order to make money — that’s how it works. If you want to linger, ask if it’s all right if you stay and, say, order an expensive bottle of wine. Why not? It’s been a long year!
DO: Tip big. No … bigger. Baseline is 20% — to show your appreciation, tip a little, or a lot, more. Right now, there’s the fresh, and hopefully short-lived, inequity that most restaurant staffers will still be masked up, while we finally get to be largely mask-free. Restaurants continue to reckon with restructuring, rightfully, the way staff in both the dining room and the kitchen gets paid. As you may have noticed, $15 an hour is not, in reality, a living wage in Seattle. Chefs/owners are afraid to raise prices. Our gratuities pay workers’ salaries and keep the whole enterprise going — if we’re going to go out to eat, this is just part of the social contract, as weird as it may be. If a restaurant is trying to solve it with gratuity included, put a little something on the additional tip line. They’re there for us; let’s show up for them.
DO: Speaking of showing up, while we’re at it, let’s support efforts to feed the hungry. Things are not OK. The richest among us are paying nothing, or next to it, in taxes; meanwhile, others live in tents. Those of us who can afford to go out to eat can also afford to give to FareStart, the Rainier Valley Food Bank or any of a host of other community-based nonprofits trying to look after those of us who need it most. We are all interconnected; we are all human.
DO: Just say thank you. Tell your server that everything was really good, and to please tell the kitchen, and that you’re so happy to be back. Be grateful; be profuse. Don’t forget, as time goes by, how lucky we are to be here, raising a glass, part of each others’ lives, together.