$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.
$1 for 3 months. Save 97%.

Masked servers, Plexiglas and patios: The new dine-in experience

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

A young woman wearing a high-visibility construction vest and paper mask waved me into a dimly lit Ferndale dining room Monday afternoon, suggesting that I sit on the patio outside with the rest of the guests and asked that I please wear my mask, should I leave my table. 

Later into my visit at Como's pizzeria, I learned she was not a server but a "sanitation specialist," someone hired by Peas & Carrots Hospitality restaurant group to routinely clean door handles and surfaces for maximum immaculateness. It seemed very "new normal," but along with guests spaced out appropriately on the sunny outdoor deck and all employees wearing masks, it made me feel safe and comfortable. 

Taqueria El Nacimiento in Detroit added clear plastic partitions in the dining room and propped open both front and back doors so no one had to touch the door handles.

It's hard to go from three months of asking DoorDash to leave your dinner on a chair on your front porch to the next day putting a restaurant fork directly in your mouth. 

That's why I almost brought my own silverware to dinner Tuesday night. I may also have been spotting drinking hot coffee through a plastic straw Monday morning instead of putting lips to cup. 

It's not that I'm afraid of getting COVID-19 from a restaurant utensil. But using disposable flatware or opting to keep my mask on at the bar when I'm not drinking makes me relax more, which makes the experience more enjoyable. And isn't that why we're excited for bars and restaurants to open again, to enjoy them? 

Of the handful of restaurants I visited early this week, I saw most owners and managers go out of their way to make guests feel comfortable. Plexiglas was a welcomed sight (and a useful way to break up those communal tables that so many complain about). 

A Tuesday night dining experience at Giovanni's Ristorante in the Oakwood Heights neighborhood of Detroit started off awkward — mostly due to my own trepidation  — and ended with the familiar, relaxing feeling of a belly full of carbs. The staff was enthusiastic, welcoming and masked, and guests were plentiful but set far part from one another. 

Table visits were few, yet friendly servers seemed to be trying extra hard to smile behind the face coverings. They're navigating these uncharted waters the same as customers, so cut them some slack and tip more than normal. 

If you want to venture back out to bars and restaurants but are still a little nervous, you aren't alone. Start with somewhere that you're familiar with, maybe one that has outdoor seating. If you're on the more cautious end of the spectrum, wait to visit windowless pubs and sports bars, which in my experience have been the most relaxed in regards to spacing out seats and requiring guests to wear masks. 

Stick to your comfort level, enjoy, be patient and generous. It's been a long three months for those on both sides of the table.

Twitter: @melodybaetens