Pandemic Diaries: “A surreal visit to a Dubai restaurant post-lockdown”
I typically don’t need much convincing to go out for a meal, especially not on a Friday when brunch is less about food and more a social ritual here in Dubai.
However, last Friday, I had mixed feelings as I made my way to one of my favourite restaurants, which had just announced its reopening following temporary closure due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Excitement, trepidation, and curiosity ran through my mind as I left the apartment in the finest attire I had worn in weeks. This was essentially just a playsuit and a pair of converse trainers; but a welcome change from my usual lockdown attire of swats and flipflops.
Two of my friends joined me for brunch, and I called ahead to book a table, unsure of whether or not the capacity restriction would limit our chances of getting a seat.
After we had our temperatures checked at the entrance and our hands sanitised, I noticed that we were the only customers in the restaurant. Unsure of the protocol of mask wearing once inside, we decided to keep them on as we silently pondered how the physical acts of eating and drinking would be possible with them on.
The server, clad in a mask and gloves, handed us menus. He asked if we wanted disposable cups and plates for our food which we accepted, assuming this was the most sanitary option.
Within about 15 minutes, as we fervidly discussed Netflix, banana bread and WFH frustrations, our food was served. The burning question of what should be done with your mask while eating was solved by the waiter, who sensed our bewilderment and signalled that they could be removed.
As the afternoon went on, the venue slowly began to fill up. Couples, friends and small groups of three to four began taking their seats, and slowly the atmosphere began to warm up.
But as I saw other diners eating, laughing and talking, the reality of the ‘new normal’ sank in.
While the restaurant certainly upheld all the necessary safety precautions – which alleviated any concerns I had about my health – I still found the whole experience daunting.
Ironically, it is the same factors that made me feel at ease, like the social distancing and mask-wearing, that took away from the overall experience. It left me wondering whether or not the meal was even worth leaving my apartment for in the first place.
As we were leaving, I noticed another friend was sat in the dining room. Usually, I would have rushed to greet her with a hug. Instead, we waved at each other from afar – it was like two awkward teenagers at a school disco.
I now realise that the days of buzzy restaurants and large social gatherings are a thing of the past (at least for the foreseeable future), and a more subdued restaurant experience has taken its place.
That will be one of the restaurant industry’s biggest hurdles – because while outlets appear to have adapted to the new normal, diners will need to get used to an entirely new restaurant experience before they start coming back in larger numbers.
That said, I will undoubtedly dine out again once I become accustomed to the new coronavirus restaurant etiquette. Having food served to the table was a welcome luxury, after weeks of home cooking and delivery boxes.
I am ready to embrace the new normal and support restaurants in this post-lockdown world. Are you?
Read the first in the Pandemic Diaries series: "I went to the barber during coronavirus lockdown and the haircut feels better than ever"
Pandemic Diaries is a weekly column that delves into the new normal of life in Dubai. Have a pitch for us? Send it to Esquire Middle East's Online Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org. All experiences are the author's own and were compliant with the rules and regulations of the UAE.
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