By Stacey Wharam
The past few months have been incredibly difficult for restaurants and small businesses struggling to stay afloat, and reopening with new safety guidelines has not been easy. COVID-19 is a challenge that no business in this lifetime has ever had to face, and it’s important that customers are patient and empathetic as they patronize Alexandria’s newly reopened restaurants.
To an outsider, reopening may seem easy. And yes, owners, employees and staff are thrilled to be back in business, but it is radically different and stressful. Customers rely on restaurants to have a system and a “groove,” but most restaurants have reopened quickly and are still learning how to comply with new mandates.
Know that every owner and employee is dealing with new safety protocols that have been required by state and local governments, as well as trade and professional associations. Most imposed changes and protocols are required by law, and some are a result of lost revenue or lost staff.
While safety for staff and customers is a first priority, the costs associated with these mandated protocols can threaten a business’ sustainability. This creates a great deal of stress and anxiety for both owners and staff.
When visiting local establishments, know that your patronage is appreciated, but please be understanding and try not to complain. Be thoughtful and empathetic. Most businesses are doing the best they can, while trying to maintain the health and well-being of their staff and customers.
Please do not go into a restaurant and expect things to be as they were back in February and early March. The restaurant that you remember does not exist.
Alexandria’s restaurant community is resilient, capable and creative. As we work to adapt and evolve, it is important to be kind, compassionate and patient to the staff you interact with. Here are some things to keep in mind while dining during the pandemic:
Everyone is trying to adjust to the new and changing guidelines. Tables take longer to clear and clean. Servers are working hard. Every day is different.
Respect the seating arrangements
Please do not demand a specific table. The restaurants have gone to great lengths to calculate social distancing and safe dining practices. It may not look like it makes sense, but rest assured, the arrangements are dictated by state and local guidelines. Please do not ask to put multiple tables together or just “pull up a few chairs.” Those days will hopefully return.
Don’t forget to tip
Your server is trying their best. Please do not forget to tip or scrim on the tip. Chances are, your server is thrilled you are dining at their table and they are eager to please. Many of them went several months without a paycheck.
Respect the dining time limits
It is tough to seat a lot of people and many restaurants are barely making any profit. One key to safety and financial stability is being able to serve people with an hour or 90-minute time limit. Gone are the days of lingering at a table for hours after lunch or dinner.
There may be substitutes on the menu. This fact is unavoidable because shortages still abound at stores for certain food groups.
Don’t be too hard on take out
Take-out orders are much appreciated during the pandemic, but understand that when you order take out, the quality will likely differ from food served at a restaurant. The food is often in perfect condition when it leaves the restaurant, but after it has been jostled in a car or cooled for 20 minutes, it may not be as good as it was in the restaurant pre-COVID-19.
Understand that although it appears the restaurant is thriving, it has been a tough couple of months and they had to make big investments in carryout containers and other new protocols. Everyone is working as hard as they can to bring back the quality cuisine and dining experience you had before COVID 19.
We are deeply grateful for our loyal Alexandria patrons.
The writer is a local restaurateur who has worked at Fontaine since 2018.