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Interior bar area at Pepe's
Photograph: Melanie Desa

What to expect when you next dine out

It's not like it used to be

Written by
Jess Ho

Restaurants, bars and pubs are finally reopening. Sure, with some restrictions, but it finally means you won’t have to eat food from your favourite restaurant out of plastic containers at home any more and washing up will be left for someone else. As of June 22, Victorian premier Dan Andrews has officially announced that you can get on the beers without a meal, but until then, this is what dining will look like in our brave, new world.

You will have to make a booking

If a venue is large enough, it will be able to hold a maximum of 20 people per enclosed space (until July 22, where it is capped at 50 while still operating under the same density guidelines). Very few venues are large enough to fit 20 people in it, let alone have several areas where you can be served. This means everyone who was griping and moaning about no-bookings restaurants can now live their best lives. Bookings are essential (almost) everywhere, but if you’re trying your luck, be prepared to wait.  

Prepare to pay before you dine

If you’ve managed to make a booking at your desired restaurant, don’t be surprised if they ask for credit card details or for you to pay a deposit before you dine. It’s been hard enough for restaurants already with being unable to serve people for a few months, so no shows would be the death of them. Understand that we are all experiencing collective trauma and paying before you dine ensures your favourite restaurant will be open tomorrow.

Menus will look different

With fewer people being able to dine in restaurants, it doesn’t make sense to put on a full team (on both the floor and kitchen) to serve these limited numbers. If you’re dining a la carte, menus are most likely shorter, otherwise, you’ll be locked into a set menu. This is to ensure minimal wastage, but also that the restaurant isn’t losing money on the entree you’re sharing between three people. 

Menus will also physically be different. With the strict hygiene policies in place, you’ll most likely be handed a sheet of paper with a QR code that will take you to a food menu and drinks list on your phone, or be handed a laminated page that can be wiped down repeatedly. Some restaurants and bars are going down the single-use menu route, but it pains every single one of them with the impact it has on the environment.

You’ll have to choose your friends wisely

The largest number of people on a single table is currently six. Even if you’re happy for a venue to separate you across two tables if you want to have more in your party, each table must be 1.5m apart and you can’t play musical chairs while dining. It’s best that you save that birthday dinner for later, or find a venue with a private room.

You’ll have to leave your details

In case there is an outbreak where you have dined, your entire table will be required to register your details with the restaurant so they can contact you. This information will only be your name, a phone number or an email, but won’t be abused by the restaurant. If you’re highly protective of your information, we would suggest waiting to dine out until restrictions and regulations are fully lifted.

You’ll have room to move

With a maximum of 20 people per space, in line with allowing four square metres per person, the restaurant dining area will have to be huge for it to even allow for 20 people, if at all. Very few spaces will be large enough for 20, so expect dining rooms to be less buzzy than before. On the plus side, walking to the bathroom means you won’t accidentally bump into corners of stranger’s tables and waiting for a stall will be a thing of the past.

You’ll be dining on the clock

Due to the limited number of people allowed to dine at any one time, venues will be enforcing seatings to allow the maximum number of people to dine in the venue. At the time of booking, each venue will let you know how long you have the table for, but be prepared to give up your table to a rigorous sanitising ritual after 1.5-2 hours. Needless to say, you don’t want to be late.

Don’t forget your card

You know that saying, ‘cash is king’? Well, sadly, it is no more. Physical money has never been the cleanest thing in the world, but in a time where sanitising and cleaning is of the utmost importance, some venues may not accept cash. It’s never been a better time to tap your life away. Don’t forget to tip.

You will appreciate dining out more

Even though dining today and tomorrow will not look like dining in the Beforetime, being able to leave the house, being waited upon by professionals, drinking alcohol you didn’t have stashed away in your house, eating food you didn’t make, listening to a playlist you didn’t put together all the while in a room so well lit you look ten times more attractive than you have in the last three months, and not cleaning up after yourself is a transcendental experience and worth every dollar. What a wild ride. Again, don’t forget to tip. 

Need a brush up on dining restrictions? Read this. Dying to dine out? Book at one of these restaurants.

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