When many Americans talk about returning to “normal life” after the pandemic, they might mean going back to the office, resuming in-person school or child care, or preparing for the best summer ever. For plenty of other people, though, their true barometer is the simple ability to once again eat indoors at restaurants.
The past year completely overhauled countless lives, essentially asking each and every one of us to pare down our social selves if we want to protect our health and that of others. And like some demented curse, it turned out strangers eating together inside a restaurant is actually one of the ideal settings where the coronavirus absolutely thrives. Indoor dining was one of the first things to go in many states’ efforts to curb the pandemic, and the decision to keep restaurants open sparked national conversations about larger issues such as freedom, safety, and the economy.
And now, while indoor dining at restaurants has largely returned (or, in some cases, never went away), restaurants aren’t the same. Neither are we.
According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2021 state of the industry report, restaurant sales in 2020 were $240 billion lower than what was forecasted, thanks to the pandemic, and over 110,000 eating and drinking establishments shut their doors at least temporarily. The organization estimated that at one point, around 8 million employees were laid off or furloughed. Restaurant employees who kept their jobs risked their health to work during the pandemic. And, according to the results of a Morning Consult poll published April 21, only 55 percent of the public would feel comfortable eating indoors right now.