Have you been out to eat?

Marsha and I have hit a few restaurants since they’ve reopened.  We’ve dined both inside and out at some of our favorite places.  

One thing is clear: the restaurants are going above and beyond to insure the safest possible haven. 

Masa fried oysters at Washington Prime

Cleaned and sanitized to the nth degree, restaurants are eager to resume operations and welcome all of us back.  With a quick look around, it’s easy to see extra cleaning supplies on hand, enhanced procedures at each table turn, and abundant access to hand sanitizer for staff and guests.

You can be sure that the restaurants are putting their best culinary foot forward. We have dined very well in our few outings. (More details another time.) 

Our temperature has been taken (we passed) as we arrived.  At Washington Prime the waiter was clear that we were to wear our masks any time we got up from the table, and that payment was by credit card only. It’s good to know they thought these things through and conscientiously communicated them up front. 

Well spaced tables at Washington Prime

Menus are all single-use, as the rules require.  That works for me. I always like to keep the menu to review the description of my dishes as they come, make some notes, and then take the menu home. 

Inside tables are well spaced and the dining rooms much less noisy than in the past. This is a hardship for the restaurants, I know, but a blessing for diners, at least for now. 

Whenever possible, restaurants have added outside tables. There’s pretty good consensus that being outside with a steady flow of fresh air is less risky than being inside.  It’s remarkable that hardpressed restaurants have found the means to set up comfortable outdoor tables with planters, awnings, and as much ambiance as they can muster.  It’s a necessary expense if they want to get back in the game. 

Outdoor dining in SoNo

If sidewalk dining doesn’t appeal, tables by the water are available. We’ve eaten on the deck at SoNo Seaport overlooking Norwalk Harbor. Across the salt marsh, Harbor Lights has patio seating at the water’s edge.  We snagged a table at the Tavern at GrayBarns with a view of the Silvermine River, but would have been just as happy in their shady cherry orchard.

As long as the weather stays good, outside seating is a welcome addition to summer dining.  I wonder what happens if a sudden shower sends everyone scurrying.  Can guests be accommodated inside? 

City officials have been remarkably cooperative and encouraging, making space on sidewalks and expediting approvals.  Good for them! 

Overlooking the river at The Tavern at GrayBarns

You can be sure that restaurants are doing all they can. None of them want to be shamed on social media or run afoul of authorities for non compliance. Their economic future depends on patrons feeling safe and welcome.  

Still, I’ve talked to some people who are reluctant to eat out. In a very informal survey of (mostly older) friends and neighbors, I got the clear message that they’re not ready yet.  Some with health issues just don’t want to take the chance. One confided that the restaurant experience wouldn’t be the busy, buzzy, vibrant event they enjoy.  Some friends down South tried it out but found the masks and procedures too off-putting. Others ventured out but reconsidered. For them it was too soon.  Those that do eat out are glad of restaurant precautions. 

At Washington Prime, owner Rob Moss is seeing a broad spectrum of customers returning. A big part of their business is in the 50+ range, and they’re coming back strong.  On our weeknight visit, the outside tables were taken by families and couples covering a wide age range. People who like to eat at the bar are the only regulars Rob hasn’t seen yet.  

Bars have been a problem in other states.  Last week Governor Lamont postponed the opening of bars — a tough call, but the right one given the experience in southern states. He’s looking out for all of us.

Rpb Moss at Washington Prime

There have been a few incidents of patrons objecting to Washington Prime’s safety measures, but Rob is sticking to what he knows is right for everyone.  He’s got a long-term view. 

From his vantage point at the end of Washington Street, Rob can see that the rest of that restaurant row is doing OK too. The sidewalk tables are full, and inside seats by the open windows are in demand too. It’s not enough to make the restaurants profitable, but it shows that operators are committed to following the path to safe service working toward the full dining rooms that they need to thrive. 

Frank Whitman can be reached at NotBreadAloneFW@gmail.com.