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Dining-in is allowed again, but is it worth the trouble?

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DINERS are required to wear masks. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF GUEVARRAS

After three months of shutting down regular dining operations of restaurants, allowing only pick-ups and deliveries of food and drinks, people can now dine in restaurants — but not as freely as they used to.

The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has drawn up a certain set of guidelines to be followed when dining inside restaurants, and this has been adopted by the Department of Tourism (DoT) for DoT-accredited restaurants as it reopens the country’s tourism industry with a “slow but sure” approach. The new protocol changes the way people dine in restaurants completely, thus making chef-owners/restaurateurs think if it is worth the trouble of opening their respective places to dine-in services (or just stick to pick-ups and deliveries). It also makes diners wonder if it is worth the trouble of dressing up, driving to and spending precious time and hard-earned money dining in a restaurant.

You see, the IATF-EID guidelines require restaurants to provide their staff with personal food safety apparel and training, monitor the body temperature of all employees, comply with comprehensive food safety and conduct standards, and regular disinfection and sanitation of the different areas of the restaurant, including furniture and tableware. An alarm system must also be installed within the premises to remind employees to practice “proper handwashing every 20 minutes, before and after meals, before wearing gloves, touching food or food-contact surfaces and other specific actions” using soap and water or 70 percent solution alcohol or alcohol-based sanitizers.

On top of these requirements, restaurant owners have to shell out additional investment on changing the physical set-up of the dining area. More than reducing maximum customer capacity to 50 percent of the restaurant’s seating capacity, they also have to change the tables to a one-diner-per-table set-up or provide glass dividers or barriers between diners to protect everyone. Note, too, that diners have to be seated one meter apart to observe social distancing.

This type of set-up is not conducive to family dining, business meetings or coffee time with friends, as diners have to sit by their lonesome. The distance between them makes conversations while enjoying the food not possible at all. And how do you share the food at all?

Other requirements on diners include wearing of masks, undergoing temperature checks, proper handwashing and physical distancing upon entry and while within the restaurant premises. They also have to fill out Health Declaration Forms (HDFs) as well as providing their names and contact details in a contract tracing log-sheet supplied by the restaurant.

All these — just to be able to eat in a restaurant. Yes, eat, because there is practically nothing else to do while in the restaurant. No conversations with companions, no enjoying each other’s company, no sharing of food… Is it worth it?

In time, we will know whether chef-owners/restaurateurs and customers think it is worth all the trouble — or not — by the number of restaurants that continue to provide dine-in services and by the number of customers who continue to dine in restaurants. People are more likely to still stay home most of the time, order food via delivery (mostly online and through food delivery apps), enjoy the food freely with the family and members of the household and keep themselves safe from exposure to the virus.

But then again, the restaurant industry will continue to suffer if people do not support its efforts to return to normal, and the government is assuring the nation that this is just temporary. This is the new normal for now, to protect everyone from Covid-19, but things will be better soon.

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