Many of the necessary interventions for restaurants will adhere to the same philosophy that guides the reimagining of the office. Masks may become commonplace on servers, as might barriers between tables. In an interview with The Atlantic, the chef and restaurateur Tom Colicchio suggested reducing interactions between patrons and waiters by asking diners to order their meals online before they arrive or on tablets at the table, like in an airport. Social distancing in the kitchen might mean fewer chefs, which could make complex dishes and extravagant plating impossible.
“Until there’s a vaccine, I don’t think dine-in restaurants will get back to normal in this country,” Steve Salis, a restaurant owner in Washington, D.C., told me. “We could introduce things like finger bowls or hand wipes, like you have at some Japanese restaurants, but for every cuisine. We could add public sinks in the dining room, where people can get up and wash their hands at a counter. We might have to retrofit our restaurants to make them easier to clean. As for tables and bar stools, those will have to be socially distanced. At my diner, I might chop up booths to make them more private.”
Another idea: Put everything outside. Some American cities, including Berkley, California, and Cincinnati, have done just that, by announcing the closure of streets to free up outdoor dining space for restaurants. But for many cities, wide-scale al fresco dining is unrealistic, not only because of necessary road use, but also because we can’t ask the weather to stop. There will be snow in Boston, wind in Chicago, and rain in Seattle. An open-air restaurant is a lovely thing, but ceilings were invented for a reason.