What It's Like to Eat at a Dallas Restaurant Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic

We can sit at a real table in a real restaurant. Now what?
We can sit at a real table in a real restaurant. Now what? Alison McLean
Whether you're sitting at a table or quickly grabbing takeout, you can feel a noticeable difference at a restaurant that has opted to open for in-house dining at 25% capacity.

Cinco de Mayo had restaurants doing specials — one restaurant did this, continuing its to-go operations and allowing people to sit down for orders of street tacos.

Looking at the staff and watching employees follow and encourage protocol, everything appeared in order.

Every restaurant employee has a mask on. They stay far away from guests and yell to try to make their voices carry through the multi-layered mask and over the live music playing.

A card reader is presented for you to put your card in and pull it out yourself. (They ask that you don't use cash.) You’re asked about gratuity, they select it, then they swipe the screen — no signing for you, no touching of a device or handling a shared pen.

Gloved hands deliver your disposable boat of food. And that’s the only time they’ll come to your table, too. This sit-down restaurant has become a bit fast-casual, but if it means lessening the chance of spreading the coronavirus, why not?

As people stand in line, an employee goes around making sure everyone is spaced out. Most accommodate. One guest is reminded to keep her distance from others while she waits in (an admittedly slow) line.

“He should be taking our orders, not telling us to stand apart from each other,” she says after he walks away, looking toward the people behind her as if we’re going to nod along, like asking us to help not spread a deadly virus is obnoxious.

She’s not wearing a mask, and actually, the majority of those spending their Cinco de Mayo here aren’t — you’d think the sight of every employee covering their faces would make them second guess that, but maybe one can more easily forget after a margarita.

(Confirmed, by the way: It’s not difficult to slip a straw up a mask for such consumption.)

click to enlarge How to line up during COVID: People at Cattleack Barbeque recently knew. - BRIAN REINHART
How to line up during COVID: People at Cattleack Barbeque recently knew.
Brian Reinhart
People standing in line are mostly keeping distance, but for some reason forget that rule while walking through the line to get to the other side, coming by within a few feet — a distance that in the time of COVID feels like a tremendous breach of personal space.

Meanwhile, staff members protect their faces and hands, following all CDC and local state guidelines for sanitizing. The bartop is closed — they could make serious money there, especially with excellent margaritas on a beautiful early evening. If guests have to wait for one of the few tables that are spaced apart, they’ll have to do so in their cars or outside.

But God forbid those tacos take “too long” to get in a guest’s mouth. This is a restaurant that didn’t just open, it’s added a whole other process on top of a smooth takeout business.

Part of the large dining room has become an operation for takeout, and that food is being prepared in the kitchen. So, no, when a guest says, “There’s a whole kitchen in addition to this operation out here, how is it they can’t get the food out faster?” they're not just cooking up the carnitas for your street taco.

They’re doing everything they can to give you an experience of their restaurant while they hustle to make enough money so it remains open another year, few months or week.

It’s one thing if people want to mix households and break CDC recommendations. It’s another thing when you relax the rules around people who are taking precautions to avoid spreading a disease to you but are risking their lives to make a living and hand you sustenance.

When going to a restaurant to dine in or pick up to show support or simply fuel ourselves for another day to sit at home, the least we could do is wear a mask and keep away from each other. When we don't, it's the consumers, not the employees, who make this experience threatening.
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Taylor Adams has written about the restaurant industry for the Dallas Observer since 2016. Now the Observer's food editor, she attended Southern Methodist University before covering local news at The Dallas Morning News.