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Dining and Doubt: Patrons Weigh In on Returning to Eating Inside Restaurants

A martini and a beer from The Bar Association in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, are some of the first drinks Kate and Matt Speer, of Canonsburg, got to enjoy dining out, following the state shutdown.

Now that restaurants and bars across the country are slowly reopening, experimenting with limited capacities and social distancing guidelines in their dining rooms, patrons have been wrestling with whether they feel comfortable to sit at an indoor eating space that isn’t their home.

Oren and Melanie Spiegler, of Peters Township in Pennsylvania, were eager to return to restaurants once they opened their doors for inside service.

“Dining is my lifeblood, one of my favorite leisure activities, and my wife and I do a lot of it at a wide variety of restaurants,” Spiegler said this week in an email. “It was a hard blow when the pandemic hit, rendering dining impossible for so long.”

Do the rest of consumers agree with Spiegler?

WEST VIRGINIA

Charleston resident Cleve Persinger travels throughout the state for his job with the West Virginia Convention of Southern Baptists and he’s glad to be able to eat inside establishments instead of his car.

“We’ve been cautiously going places,” he said Thursday before having lunch at Chams Lebanese Cuisine in downtown Parkersburg. “I’ve felt safe, especially at restaurants that space out and follow the health department guidelines.”

Those include limiting capacity to 50 percent and ensuring 6 feet of distance between seatings.

“It’s a comfort too, knowing that restaurants are taking this seriously, that they’re not just looking forward to opening up to make money,” said Persinger’s co-worker, Zack Sampson, of Huntington.

Persinger said in addition to enjoying the food, they like supporting businesses in the communities they visit.

“A lot of these folks took a hit” while partially closed due to the pandemic, he said.

Parkersburg resident Hannah West said she’s been to a number of local restaurants since indoor dining resumed. She said she feels comfortable with the steps they’re taking, including having employees wear masks.

“It seems like every place we’ve been has had, like, designated sections where we’re supposed to sit and people are not supposed to sit,” she said.

For Brenda Johnson, also of Parkersburg, it’s still too soon to dine in. She said she doesn’t eat out much anyway and usually gets takeout on her lunch break.

“Due to the pandemic … I did go to the outside dining once,” she said.

Parkersburg resident John Nicholson, meanwhile, said he and his wife Lynn aren’t worried about the effect of the virus on themselves but they are concerned about potentially spreading it to more vulnerable individuals. That, combined with the ease of picking up food and eating at home, is why they haven’t dined in since the option became available.

“If we were eating out, we would probably prefer outdoor dining versus indoor dining,” Nicholson said. “I’m glad to see the restaurants opening back up. I’m glad to see people out.”

OHIO

With indoor and outdoor dining reopening in Ohio in May, many have been returning to their favorite spots for a meal.

Linda Trager, of Wellington, said she and her husband haven’t made it out to eat yet, but that she can’t wait for when they do.

Her husband recently had surgery and is using a knee scooter, which makes going out to places difficult.

“I just haven’t had the time,” Trager said. “It’s not conducive to go anywhere with [the scooter]. But yeah, I would go out to eat.”

She said she is “so looking forward” to going out for dinner, but worries about what others are doing.

“I have no problem wearing the mask,” she said. “I know I’m good about washing my hands but you don’t know that everybody else does. I don’t know their hygiene.”

She said she’s had sanitizing wipes in her car long before COVID-19, so keeping them now as a result of the pandemic isn’t much different.

Heather Hemenway, who works in Norwalk, said she has gone out to eat once. She took her children to Panera Bread for a meal and said she felt comfortable with the experience.

“It wasn’t that busy, so that was nice,” Hemenway said. “I was mostly just keeping my kids from running around, touching everything. They had the tables separated so you could only sit at every other one. It was nice to get out.”

Hemenway said her children didn’t wear masks while at Panera but she has been careful whenever she’s been out.

She then added that she and her partner are planning on going out tomorrow without the kids, which they haven’t done yet, and she’s curious how it will go.

“We haven’t been out to dinner without the kids yet,” Hemenway said. “I’m ready for it, so if I can get a babysitter, I’m out.”

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