To go out to dinner as a child was a rare and special occasion for my family, even when we went to the ubiquitous Your Host, a chain of 31 mediocre family restaurants in the Buffalo area. Fish fries and toast points. Yum! As we got older, into our teen years, my parents would take us out to dinner to a nice restaurant once a year, so we could get a little culture and practice our manners.
I started working in restaurants during college: as a busboy, then a bartender, a waiter, eventually becoming a manager. Fifteen years I spent in the restaurant industry. It was hard work and long hours, but it fit my lifestyle of writing during the day. I liked working on a Saturday night when everyone else was out enjoying themselves. I liked my weekends being on Monday and Tuesday when anywhere I wanted to go was less crowded than on regular weekends.
I spent my seven years in California working at the Sea Cloud, an upscale restaurant with spectacular views of Monterey Bay and the Santa Cruz beaches. I learned a lot about restaurant operations, about food and dining culture, about mixing strong and refreshing cocktails.
I carried this knowledge with me throughout the years and when I switched to a different career, I still loved going to restaurants and bars. I compared every restaurant outing with my own experience and skills, and sometimes, I’ve been told, I could be a harsh critic. I didn’t like something the server said, or how a dish was served, or the glass my drink came in. But I always overtipped.
When my kids were tiny, we would sometimes go to restaurants simply to get a break from the home routine of cooking and washing dishes. It was a challenge keeping the kids entertained, but we always brought a lot of books, ordered quickly, and left as soon as we were finished eating.
Whether home or traveling, Harriet and I make a point of seeking out the best restaurants. We both love food, we love the dining experience.
Now, all that has changed. I have friends who own restaurants–and I feel bad for them. This COVID-19 pandemic is destroying many restaurant businesses. Even with restrictions lifted and indoor dining being permitted again–at significantly reduced capacity, with employees and patrons in masks, with all kinds of disinfecting going on–I have no desire to go to a restaurant.
It’s not that I fear the coronavirus so much (I do somewhat), but the restaurant experience now is just too altered, too sad. I don’t want to wear a mask every time I get up from my table, I don’t want my servers and the cooks having to wear masks, I don’t want them putting themselves at risk for my pleasure (no pleasure in dining out now), I don’t want to be scrutinizing a restaurant’s compliance with guidelines . . . none of it appeals to me. How can I enjoy my cocktail, savor my meal?
It’s just not happening. And I feel bad about that. So it’s still takeout only for me–on those nights I can’t bring myself to shop, cook and wash the dishes.