As we tiptoe out of the COVID-19 quarantine, the “new normal” of the restaurant experience is starting to take shape in Naples:
More social distancing: This goes without saying right now, and it may continue long into the future. Restaurants are initially limited to 25% capacity, progressing to 50% in the next phase. Your favorite high-energy neighbor joint, where tables are packed together so tightly that you always make new friends, is probably gone forever.
More outdoor dining: Patios and terraces aren’t subject to the 25% capacity rule, as long as tables are six feet apart and parties are restricted to 10 people or less. Naples is in the process of easing permits for outdoor seating in sidewalks and parking lots; look for high-volume streets to be closed to vehicle traffic and converted to alfresco dining.
Masks and gloves: Chatty servers may be muffled for a while. Service staff will also need to be more careful about setting down and picking up plates, since they are technically obligated to change gloves after each interaction. Also, they may not be able to box up your unfinished meal in a doggy bag.
Cleaning and disinfecting: The cleaning business will probably be more lucrative than restaurants for the immediate future, and the process will become increasingly automated. NCH Baker Hospital has loaned germ-zapping robots to six Naples restaurants that helped feed their employees during the quarantine. The LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robot, manufactured by Xenex Disinfecting Services, uses high-intensity UV light to clean places humans may be unable to reach. Talk about a growth industry.
Staff hygiene: Managers will be responsible for taking employees’ temperatures prior to every shift, rigorous hand-washing practices will be in place, and kitchen workers will also be wearing masks and gloves.
The digital revolution has arrived: The hallmarks of lockdown dining—online ordering and contact-less payment—may be here to stay, and both take-out and curbside pickup will dominate restaurants for months or even years to come. Paper menus will likely be replaced by iPads and other automated systems that can be regularly disinfected. Many personalized aspects of the restaurant experience will be replaced by systems that will be less intimate but safer.
Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture. His first two novels, Friend of the Devil and The American Crusade, are available on Amazon; his third novel, Impeachment, will be released this fall.