The Big Changes You Can Expect When Dining Out

What is this "new normal" that everyone speaks of?

One of the things prohibited during the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) is dining in restaurants. It certainly feels like many moons ago when we were able to freely enjoy a meal in our go-to restaurants and fast food chains, or even catch up with friends over a cup of coffee in our favorite cafes.

But as cities transitioned to general community quarantine (GCQ) and modified general community quarantine (MGCQ) this June, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Diseases allowed the gradual opening of these establishments for dine-in transactions. And this is when we welcome a "new normal" for dining in restaurants. 

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What does the "new normal" mean for us, dine-in customers? And what does this mean for restaurant owners?

New normal for dine-in customers 

For restaurants located in cities that are under MECQ and GCQ, they are able to operate up to 30% capacity, which means only a certain number of people are allowed to dine-in at a given time. It is mandatory for customers who want to dine in to have a face mask and practice social distancing.

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These are major points customers have to remember before entering a food establishment:

  • - no face mask, no entry
  • - social distancing inside the establishment, including the queueing areas
  • - thermal scanners
  • - sanitizers in entrances
  • - foot baths 
  • - answering a health checklist 
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DTI has also set guidelines for customers who are exiting the dining establishment. There should be no physical contact for payments and to do this, the restaurants will provide a tray for accepting cash. After each customer, there will be regular sanitation of high-contact areas, such as door handles, tables, and chairs.

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Restaurants will look different.

When Metro Manila went under MGCQ and the guidelines were released by DTI, there were a number of restaurants that were quick to resume dine-in operations-with safety measures in place, of course. 

Kalel Chan, the corporate chef at Raintree Restaurants, says "I think It's time to get back on our feet. Restaurants lost a lot with this closure and employees are also a big factor in the decision making [process]. We waited for all the government and LGU guidelines so as soon as we can comply, we will start slowly but surely."

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In the new normal, restaurants are required to have the following:

  • - floor markings for queueing guidelines
  • - proper ventilation
  • - sanitizing equipment
  • - food menus per table
  • - contactless order-taking

According to Chef Kalel, the restaurants under Raintree, like Friends and Family, Chotto Matte, and Providore, are looking into offering cashless transactions and menu that can be accessed through a QR code.

Plastic will be a material greatly utilized in this new setup. For restaurants that have porous materials, like wooden tables and wooden chairs, these will need to be covered in plastic. Another instance wherein plastic can be used is for a divider for face-to-face seating. It's definitely a thing we have to get used to, especially for restaurants that don't offer al fresco seating. 

Buffets are no longer self-service.

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Vikings was one of the first restaurants that came prepared with a video presentation of what one can expect when dining in at their restaurants would look like, given that buffets are not allowed under DTI's guidelines. The food remains unlimited, but instead of having self-service stations, the restaurant will provide disposable forms that customers can fill out as to which dishes they want to be served to their table.

Innovative ways to dine-in will emerge.

Army Navy, on the other hand, has a totally different approach in select branches. Their new normal doesn't include dining inside the establishment, but inside customers' cars, instead. From ordering, eating, and paying-everything can be done inside the car. You don't even have to get down at all!

According to Lawrence Cua, owner of Bun Appetit located at The Grid in Rockwell, the food hall has resumed dine-in operations, too. Besides following the standard requirements provided by DTI, he says, "it was not that big of an adjustment for us, because strict food safety and sanitation protocols have been in place long before. Now, we're just giving more priority to our team's health and well-being. If anyone is showing the slightest sign of being unwell, we already make adjustments to manpower," Lawrence says.

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Photo by Bea Faicol

Samgyupsalamat is also gradually resuming dine-in operations for people who miss the Korean barbecue experience. In the fast food department, big players like McDonald's and Jollibee are also accepting dine-in customers, too. 

A dining-in option will take a longer time to be offered in some restos. 

But not all dining establishments are on the same boat when it comes to resuming dine-in operations. For some restaurateurs, they are still adjusting and taking extra, extra precautions for the safety of the customers and their staff, plus there is also (an understandable) reluctancy because of the absence of a COVID-19 vaccine.

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Photo by Riell Santos

Cafes like Elephant Grounds, have yet to open for dine-in as they want to be 100 percent prepared and safe when they finally open its doors. Catalina Altomonte, brand manager for the Standard Group that handles Elephant Grounds, shares "We're taking extra measures-rapid test kits for everyone who will report for work, air purifiers (HEPA filters) and deflectors for airflow control, PPEs, acrylic partitions, UV radiation after every use of the bathrooms, guest and employee health tracking, and lots and lots of training and [prepartion] for contactless service and strict physical distancing in our shop." 

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But when Elephant Grounds decides to open, they will allow "cafe culture" to resume. This can happen as long as guidelines are to be followed. "Cafe culture has always been about community-part of that now is being mindful about how you treat that space and the people that are part of it."

Most restaurants will stick to food deliveries and takeout.

Sebastian's special flavor for Valentine's Day 2020!
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On the other hand, Ian Carandang of Sebastian's Ice Cream also has not resumed operations in most of their branches but has continued to survive through these difficult times by offering delivery options and will soon launch online store. He says, "I understand that the government is trying to restart the economy again slowly but for now there is still no cure or vaccine, and I want to be careful, both for our staff and for our customers."

You can't have a burger without fries.
Photo by Bea Faicol
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Al Galang of the famous burger joint Sweet Ecstasy says, "Things are moving kind of fast around the city, we want to see how things are going." He adds "we're not resuming [dine-in operations] yet. It's not something we're quite comfortable with yet, though we want this to happen sooner or later." 

Sweet Ecstasy has continued to thrive on its delivery and takeout services. He says that this could be because burgers and fries are takeout-friendly, but sales are definitely slightly affected nonetheless. When compared to pre-COVID 19, Al shares that most of their historical sales come in the evening after 6 p.m., but because of the quarantine, they're operations end by 5 p.m.

Can we ever go back to the normalcy of dining inside a restaurant? Can we go back to our carefree dining ways? 

Al says, "We have to hope for a vaccine, and we have to hope that dining will feel safe and comfortable again. The experience of dining out is in our DNA and deep down we're all going to find a way to make it work. Nothing will ever go back to normal because there have already been some permanent changes in perspective. But I think we can make dining great again."

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Click here for the full set of guidelines for dine-in restaurants and fast food establishments.

***

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