Things We Hope Stick Around at Restaurants After the Pandemic

A little extra elbow room never hurt anybody.
A little extra elbow room never hurt anybody. Lauren Drewes Daniels
We can all agree that the pandemic can’t leave the building fast enough. The restaurant industry, specifically, was hit hard this past year. Nationwide sales fell by $240 billion in 2020 from an expected level of $899 billion, according to the National Restaurant Association.

Restaurateurs are a gritty crowd, though. They've bobbed and weaved. Some even managed to throw some punches back.

Operations were tweaked. Creative ways to serve the pandemic-saddled masses were contrived. Staff was assigned to new positions, like coordinating curbside takeout, and rolls of toilet paper were added to the a la carte menu.

It wasn't all bad.

Given the prompt on Family Feud “Top things we want to stick around after the pandemic,” all of these should be on the board. (Did you know the producers of the show make contestants clap and say “Good answer, good answer” even if it’s not? There’s not enough money in the world for my family and me to pity-clap each other.)

Online Ordering
We put a truck on Mars, so the fact that we’ve just broadly ironed out ordering dinner online, honestly, feels a bit pitiful. What used to be a fussy process, or expensive through third-party services, is now fluid and easy. Maybe too easy. They thought of all the angles; sides, sauces, plastic, the tip and pickup times.

Curbside Pickup
This often goes hand-in-hand with online orders. Being able to order online, then also have someone bring the food out to us is the “Calgon, take me away” of food.

I remember everything about the day chef Janice Provost of Parigi brought a chocolate glob to my car. Further, I haven’t waited in a Whataburger line in a year. It’s beautiful.

Parking Lots
Good answer! Good answer! Clap, clap! Really though, having a burger in a parking lot, just watching cars pass or birds, has long been undervalued for its calming qualities. When restaurants shut their dining rooms, sometimes a parking lot date was the best we could do. More recently, these wide-open spaces have been transformed into extended dining rooms, parklets and curbside pickup spaces.

More Space Between Tables
The survey says: No one wants to listen to the table next to them. Categorically. The increased space between tables in dining rooms is lovely. We realize this doesn’t appeal to restaurant owners because of its negative impact on the bottom line, so we suspect we’ll be squeezed back together soon enough.

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Some things blossomed over the past year, including outdoor spaces.
Lauren Drewes Daniels
Better Outdoor Spaces
The state of Texas initiated this when they allowed patios to operate at 100% capacity while indoor seating was restricted. Throw down some ground cover, plastic tables and chairs, a few plants and maybe string some lights up and, voila, you’re back in business. All the new beer gardens, patios, parklets are delightful.

Paying the Bill By Phone
A few places have implemented a process in which diners can pay their bill using their phone, avoiding the end-of-meal wait to check out. Like when you're ready to go and the server just started taking orders at a table of nine. The Magnolia Cafe in Austin allows customers to scan a QR code and, a few clicks later, you're sneaking out the back door like thieves in the night.

Brewers Found Food Pairings
To open during certain times last year, bars and taprooms had to sell food. Kristina Rowe recently covered this in-depth: “Tapping into a reservoir of resilience, they sailed over this hurdle, and food programs from makeshift to magnificent were born.”

Reliable Takeout
Ordering takeout used to be a high-risk game. Before the pandemic, some restaurants had started delegating staff to coordinate the takeout side of operations, but recently, more of an emphasis has been put on it. For some, it was their only means of business. Moreover, restaurants made sure they got it right.

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What a world we live in when one can get a boozy Cinnamon Toast pouch to go (from Sweet Tooth Hotel).
Lauren Drewes Daniels
Some People are Nicer
Not to paint with too broad of a brushstroke here, but all along it seems people have collectively realized we're all in this mess together. And perhaps we're behaving better. As we start to go out more, for the most part, that still seems to be the case. Servers are happy to have their customers (or jobs) back.

Booze To Go!
You know this is No. 1, but we like to save the best for last. We haven’t agreed with much the state has done in the past 12 months, but allowing establishments to sell liquor for take-out was an important lifeline for many. And now bills are moving through the Legislature to make this a law
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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.