I’d Gladly Eat At This Restaurant During The Global Pandemic

Restaurants in Texas were permitted to re-open under new strict guidelines just over a week ago. Indoor spaces are limited to 25% of their previous capacity. Menus are single use only. Condiments cannot be left on the table, but provided only on request. Flatware cannot be pre-placed on tables either and instead must be given to each guest after being seated.

Still, I haven’t dined in at any restaurants yet. I did do contactless pickup Saturday night from my favorite Austin restaurant. You order and pre-pay online, arrive at your assigned time, and wait outside. Your food is placed in a bin for pickup. One hand to pick it up, and place it in the back of my car, then hand sanitizer when I’m back in the car.

One German study found no coronavirus spread in restaurants. I’m skeptical. Another study found air conditioning spread the virus inside a restaurant.

Generally speaking prolonged close contact appears to be the primary mechanism for spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It’s not just coughs that emit droplets carrying the virus. Even speaking can emit low levels of the virus. Over a prolonged period of time there can be enough of a viral load to cause an infection. Most spread happens indoors, while the virus is far more likely to dissipate outdoors.

I’m going to have far more confidence dining outside, eating with my wife and daughter, but not meeting others for the meal, than eating indoors even at limited capacity. In most cases that still means coming into contact with a member of the wait staff who takes orders and delivers food, and of course food is being prepared by someone you do not see.

While this isn’t known to be a food-borne illness (I’m not aware of any studies showing someone getting sick from eating food with the virus) that’s still someone touching your plate. I’m bringing hand sanitizer with me because I don’t want to accidentally touch my face after touching my plate. That’s probably an extra and unnecessary layer of paranoia.

Mediamatic ETEN, in Amsterdam has introduced ‘quarantine greenhouses’ for diners to eat while socially-distanced. Wait staff “wear gloves and face shields to alleviate any risk of infections..[and t]hey also use long boards to bring dishes into the greenhouses to diners.” (HT: @JohnnyJet)

In these times we are reinspired by contamination precautions and the redesign of togetherness. Our greenhouses protect you from the outside and others while offering you a unique experience of intimate dining.

In restaurants and bars, a separate room is traditionally named in French: “chambre séparée”. It suggests a sexy kind of intimacy, here things can happen that should remain hidden from plain sight and not be heard by all. We’ve decided to name our greenhouses in French too. Although what happens inside will be a lot more public…

Credit: Mediamatic ETEN

Credit: Mediamatic ETEN

Tickets are pre-purchased online and all dates are currently sold out through the end of June.

I should say that I’d eat here provided I have confidence in the cleaning procedures they’re employing in their kitchen and in each ‘greenhouse’ between seatings. As Tyler Cowen points out trust is a huge requirement for successful re-openings. And it’s why I wonde if United Airlines will wind up in worse shape than even American – they’ve broken trust with customers and MileagePlus members as well as employees. That’s a problem when trust matters more than ever for businesses.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. “One hand to pick it up, and place it in the back of my car, then hand sanitizer when I’m back in the car.”

    It’s difficult to imagine going through life with this level of unreasonable fear. We’re doomed as a species.

  2. @James

    This will end one of two ways.
    1. Social: When you can no longer take it, and just go on with your life, living or dying.
    2. Medical: When the virus dies out or a vaccine is discovered.

  3. I wouldn’t necessarily trust restaurants in TX to actually do the things they’re supposed to do to prevent spread. Several articles in the news lately have indicated that many, if not most, of the guidelines are not being followed, at least up here in Dallas.



  4. This is a modern phenomenon, only dating back to the 1950s or so. Up until the 1950s, all throughout history people lived their everyday lives with the knowledge and acceptance that bad things happen. Death by childbirth, plagues, incurable diseases, fatalities from common events like getting thrown off a horse or sepsis from a paper cut (!) were the rule, not the exception.

    During these past 7 decades we’ve become coddled, complacent, and less resilient. Maybe this pandemic will have a positive change on our life perspective.

  5. KimmieA. Yep. I agree. Any doubt read about the pandemic that was happening during Woodstock 1969. But then there was a lot going on that involved the government during that time.

  6. The 1968 so-called “Hong Kong Flu” epidemic (referenced by @ One Trippe) killed 100,000 people in the U.S. alone. The country didn’t lockdown (although care was taken by many individuals and institutions) and the economy didn’t collapse. Life and work continued. Likewise for the terrible polio epidemic in the 1950s. Public swimming pools and many parks were closed but that’s about it. All of which makes the current situation seem so odd and disproportionate.

  7. Are we coddled because we now consider it normal to have vaccines or treatments for tetanus, typhoid, syphilis, polio, measles, yellow fever, tuberculosis, rabies, etc? It’s easy to be cavalier if you toughed it out pre-1950s (I did, but not unscathed) or if you are not in a vulnerable demographic. It is also grossly inconsiderate to be dismissive towards reasonable precautions (is it really too much trouble to wash hands, use hand sanitizer, and wear a mask when inside a building?).
    I accept that this virus may be with us indefinitely, and a vaccine may be no more effective than the annual flu vaccine. Most of us may get exposed to the virus at some point. We need to decide as a society what is the acceptable level of risk (e.g. not overwhelming the health system, limiting exposure while treatments are being explored), and what are reasonable precautions going forward — not just for yourself, but for others who have a reasonable fear of your cavalier behavior.

  8. @JetAway

    The difference between now and 1968 is that 80000 people have died in the USA in three months *despite* the lockdown. It would undoubtedly have been significantly higher if these extreme measures hadn’t been taken.

  9. @KimmieA Fake News. You’re off by about 600 years.

    The Adriatic port city of Ragusa (modern-day Dubrovnik) was the first to pass legislation requiring the mandatory quarantine of all incoming ships and trade caravans in order to screen for infection.

    The order, which miraculously survived in the Dubrovnik archives, reads that on July 27, 1377, the city’s Major Council passed a law “which stipulates that those who come from plague-infested areas shall not enter [Ragusa] or its district unless they spend a month on the islet of Mrkan or in the town of Cavtat, for the purpose of disinfection.”

  10. Love the quarantine greenhouses in the Netherlands. I agree with you Gary-
    we are in a high risk group and rather be alive to travel/enjoy ourselves when it is safe(therapeutic, vaccine, etc) then be disabled or dead Getting COVID. Having come from Pharma this virus highly contagious and pre symptom which is different than SARS-1. Ppl have a different degree of risk.

  11. I am very happy to live in an age when there is something we can do about polio and the plague besides being terrified. I don’t see that as being coddled, but a well deserved comfort of our attempts to become a more advanced species. I also don’t think fear of a deadly new virus we don’t understand yet dooms us as a species. That is a rational fear. It is much more likely that our lack of fear over using up the planet’s resources at a rate faster than they can be replenished is what will doom us.

    I’m fairly sure that this lock-down has bought us time to deal with the virus moving forward. It could have been much more effective with strong coherent leadership at the national level. If we had that, we might be ready by now as a nation to resume our personal and economic lives at somewhat different normal. Trust has been a big problem in tackling this virus and it promises to be so for all of us moving forward. Can we trust the restaurants to truly be diligent in sanitizing items that are out of our sight? Can we trust others to stay out of the public space if they are sick? Can we trust our leaders to give us wise and honest guidance to maximize our chances of returning to work at least somewhat safely?

    If we can work together to build the trust we need to have a functional society in these circumstances, we should get to where we don’t have to pick up our food with one hand from a bin outside a restaurant.

  12. @Scott Shelley-Not necessarily. As a recent laborious study by the NY Times has shown, 1/3 of the current fatalities have been in nursing homes alone. If “extreme measures” had just been focused on those facilities (which were obviously at extreme risk) the overall picture would be very different. BTW-the HK flu killed a million people worldwide and the earlier Asian Flu of the late 1950s killed nearly two million.

  13. If you consider modern air travel – both the ease and the volume you might start to see how 1960s or 50s needed less restriction to contain virus spread.

  14. @ Steven – not true. It is possible to change behavior. I have fingernails for the first time in many, many years. I quit biting my nails almost as soon as we were told to keep our hands out of our mouths and, thus, I now have fingernails. It’s about the only positive thing I can say that I’ve gotten out of this new “normal.”

  15. @Helen S: indeed, we are coddled in how we think about CoVid-19.

    I’m almost 60, grew up during the Vietnam era, and I recall the nightly news body count–as well as vomiting in the back seat of my parents’ car with the HK flu, and becoming ill with mumps and chicken pox. Would I want to go through it again? Absolutely not. Did I have my child vaccinated against these and other diseases? Absolutely.

    During this virus I have been very cautious when I do go out in public. I wear a mask, plastic or nitrile gloves, and wash my hands twice upon returning home; once, in the laundry tub in the garage, and again when I enter the house. I remove my shoes in the doorway. I frequently sanitize door knobs, handles, electronic devices, and other high-use areas. Yet all these extra actions haven’t put me into an extreme paranoid state.

    However, contrast this with my daughter, age 28, and her Millenial friends (all highly compliant) some of whom haven’t stepped outside in weeks. They are absolutely terrified, living in a constant anxious state that brings to mind a wartime nation under siege. They have panic attacks, are on the phone with therapists, smoking weed, staying in bed all day. And these are normal productive, white-collar, functioning adults.

    That’s what I mean by coddled and lacking in resilience.

  16. @JetAway: “The 1968 so-called “Hong Kong Flu” epidemic (referenced by @ One Trippe) killed 100,000 people in the U.S. alone. The country didn’t lockdown (although care was taken by many individuals and institutions) and the economy didn’t collapse. Life and work continued.”

    The 1968 flu strain was also similar enough to the 1957 strain that many (if not most) people who contracted the flu during the 1957 outbreak were effectively immune to the outbreak in 1968, which seems not to have been the case with COVID-19. The death toll of 100,000 in the US as a result of the 1968 outbreak is also the total number of deaths among all outbreaks between 1968 and 1970 (since this variant of the flu disappeared and reappeared several times over the span of a few years), so your comparison to only 80,000 COVID-19 deaths should be kept in perspective, seeing as it’s taken only three months or so for 80,000 people in the US to die this year from COVID-19.

    Public health reactions and response to the 1918 flu outbreaks (where quarantines and masks were common, at least for a while) should be the comparison, not just using Woodstock (which happened at a time where the outbreaks had subsided anyway) as proof that people can congregate without any repercussions.

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