By Valentina Todoroska | 10 daily Lifestyle Editor
With many restaurants across Australia set to reopen their doors this weekend as coronavirus restrictions begin to ease, many are wondering what dining out will look like.
And like most things touched by the coronavirus pandemic, you can be certain enjoying a meal at a restaurant won’t be the same as it used to be.
Cafes and restaurants in New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT have been allowed to reopen this weekend but must adhere to a 10-customer limit.
The Northern Territory will also be able to open cafes, restaurants, pubs and clubs this weekend to an unlimited number of people with social distancing in place but patrons are not allowed to stay for longer than two hours.
Tasmania and Western Australia will follow from May 18, with Tasmania allowing 10 patrons, while WA will allow 20 at a time. South Australia will further begin on June 8, allowing 10 patrons.
A definite date for in-premise dining has not been established as yet for Victoria but restaurants and cafes will continue to offer takeaway.
So how will the process change and what will it look like when you enter the doors of your favourite dining location?
Here’s what you can expect according to recommended guidelines from the Restaurant and Catering Australia (R&CA):
Making a booking
With the limited number of patrons being allowed into venues, it’s likely getting a booking will be more difficult than it used to be.
For Brisbane’s City Winery, their phones have been ringing off the hook, with bookings now full until mid-June.
“We are beyond thrilled and beyond excited to be opening,” co-founder Adam Penberthy said.
In some parts of Australia, allowing even small numbers of patrons to dine on site will bring in extra cash for smaller venues limited to take-away meals, said the R&CA’s chief executive Wes Lambert.
But Australian Hotels Association chief executive Stephen Ferguson said the one-size-fits-all approach isn’t going to work for all businesses.
With high fixed costs like refrigeration and air conditioning, it’s not viable for many hotels to open for such small numbers of diners.
This might equal less options for where you can eat out.
Queuing and entering
When lining up to enter the restaurant, 1.5 metre social distancing rules will apply between patrons and restaurants may place markers on the floor to make this easier to follow.
If available, restaurants might use separate doors for entry and exit and hand sanitiser could also be offered at both of these points.
At Sydney’s The Gantry, there will even be a ‘hand sanitiser sommelier’ greeting guests on arrival with a selection of santisers from local alcohol brands. Fancy.
Ordering your food
When you sit at your table, you might be greeted with a contactless menu.
It’s a matter of scanning the QR code at the table so the menu pops up on your phone, a new feature offered by tech platform HungryHungry.
Shareable menu items might become a thing of the past and there will be no buffet or ‘serve yourself’ dining allowed, such as salad bars.
Cutlery and condiments
You may find yourself eating and drinking from disposable items instead of regular plates, forks, spoons, knives and cups to maintain hygiene.
If restaurants are using non-disposable crockery, cutlery and glassware, they should be clearing them after each course and washing them in commercial grade units.
Meanwhile, salt and pepper shakers will likely no longer be found on tables and all serves of condiments should be disposable.
Where you sit
This will likely be one of the biggest changes with tables set to be more spread out with a minimum distance of 1.5 metres apart being put in place.
It’s recommended no more than one patron sit per four square metres across the dinning area.
All surfaces including chairs and tables will be sanitised after each group booking.
A big part of dining out is the ambiance and mood created in a restaurant scene. This might be a little difficult to achieve with less people not creating as much of a hustle and bustle.
But fear not, a number of clever restaurant owners have become quite inventive when it comes to making the experience look and sounds the same.
Sydney’s Five Dock Dining will be playing background restaurant noises over their PA system and putting up picture cutouts of happy patrons enjoying their virtual meals.
Paying for your meal
Paying for your meal electronically will be preferred and some premises may instruct their patrons not to use cash at all.
Apps might also be used to make payment easier and split bills between diners if needed.
So while it will be nice to visit your local restaurant for a bite and some conversation with friends and family, expect it to be a little different to what it used to be.