Restaurant Dining In The COVID-19 Era (And What That Has To Do With Travel)

Filed Under: Misc.

Yesterday Ford and I had our first “dinner” date at a restaurant since early March. I put the word dinner in quotes because our reservation was for 3:15PM… more on that below. 😉

I wanted to share our experience for a few reasons:

  • We live in a new world, and I was surprised by how the experience of dining out made me feel
  • I think there are some implications here when it comes to travel resuming
  • This is the closest I’ll get to writing a trip report for the time being

With that out of the way, a few thoughts…

I love Hillstone

Update: It has been pointed out to me that Hillstone allegedly wouldn’t allow employees to wear masks until a judge got involved, which is not cool at all, and makes me think less of the restaurant group.

Yesterday afternoon we dined at Hillstone Coral Gables. Usually when we eat out we go to local restaurants, but Hillstone is the one chain restaurant we love. They have exceptionally good service, really good food, and great drinks.

When Ford first introduced me to Hillstone I was really confused, but at this point I might be a bigger fan than he is (and he’s still a huge fan).

While there are several locations around Miami, the one in Coral Gables is our favorite, even though it’s roughly a 25 minute drive away from us.

I also once heard from a reliable friend that it’s the busiest restaurant in all of Miami-Dade, though I haven’t been able to verify that independently. Pre-COVID-19 it was busy to the point that they had a police officer in the restaurant due to how crowded it got.

I was also looking forward to dining at Hillstone because it’s a restaurant group that has very strict rules even during good times, so I figured this would be a good representation of how dining out has changed.

Dining out isn’t what it used to be

Let me start out with the bottom line upfront, sharing our takeaways from dining at one of our favorite restaurants for the first time in nearly three months. Ford shared the following conclusions, which I agree with:

  • “It was slightly anti-climactic, but I had a nice time.”
  • “It’s not as laid back, it’s more formal, everything takes longer, and the carefree aspects of dining out take a lot of the fun out of it.”
  • “It feels a bit like getting on a plane, you’re paying for someone to tell you what to do.”

Let me be clear — all of those are good things in light of current circumstances, but they’re still realities that alter how we feel about experiences.

How was the actual dining experience? Well, the first thing is that you can no longer wait inside, but rather you have to wait outside until your table is ready, which isn’t particularly fun at 3PM as we get into a warm South Florida summer.

Once inside, it was surreal how empty the restaurant was. Ordinarily this place has dozens of people around the bar even during the quietest times, while in this case the bar was blocked off.

They seated at most two people per table, every other table was blocked off, and people had to sit in the same side of every booth for spacing.

Unlike before, menus were single use.

While we didn’t have to wear masks while seated, we did have to wear them when going to and from our tables, and when going to the bathrooms, and there was a police officer walking around enforcing this policy.

We were offered sanitizing towels once we sat down. Nope, they weren’t rose-scented like in Lufthansa first class, but rather smelled like hand sanitizer.

The thing I was most looking forward to was my very dirty vodka martini, and that didn’t disappoint. I love Hillstone because when your martini is roughly halfway done they bring you a new iced glass so that your drink doesn’t get warm.

We had a tuna tartare to start, which was as good as ever.

I had the kale and rotisserie chicken salad, while Ford had a burger.

Ultimately the drinks and food were solid, but that doesn’t change all the little ways the experience has changed in a way that takes the fun out of dining out.

This ranged from sitting outside for 20 minutes waiting for our table (rather than having a drink at the bar), the much quieter atmosphere due to social distancing, everyone being more on edge, etc. Again, don’t get me wrong, all of that is good, and it’s exactly how restaurants should be. But it also doesn’t take away some of the enjoyment.

I felt safe…

We’ve been doing everything we can to take precautions in this era, though I was also curious if I would “feel” safe going to a restaurant. It goes without saying that feeling safe is different than actually being safe, though my personal take is that:

  • The precautions being taken by restaurants feel sufficient (ideally we’d dine outside rather than inside, but Hillstone doesn’t have any outdoor seating)
  • Even beyond precautions taken by the restaurant, we’re also taking our own precautions, from keeping on our masks while waiting for tables outside, to bringing our own hand sanitizer and frequently disinfecting, etc.
  • Going to restaurants has been our biggest “sin” in this regard, as we’re not gathering in large groups of people, we wear our masks every time we’re outside (except when running at 5:30AM, where there’s almost no one else outside)

I wouldn’t hesitate to dine out again purely in terms of feeling safe, but I frankly don’t have much desire to do so given the new normal.

We’ve changed our lives (for the better) by not dining out

If we hadn’t adjusted our lives in any way in the past couple of months then I probably wouldn’t feel so lukewarm towards dining out again. However, we’ve made two major changes while social distancing:

  • Ford has learned to cook, which has been so awesome and life-changing, as I’ve enjoyed every one of his meals as much as a good restaurant meal, if not more; it’s also healthier and cheaper
  • We’ve started intermittent fasting, so we usually only eat between the hours of 9AM and 5PM, and that doesn’t exactly fare well for dining out

What all of this has to do with travel

I have one major travel takeaway based on our dining experience, since going to restaurants and traveling were two things I was looking forward to doing once again.

I think that trying to replicate any travel experience in the COVID-19 era will only lead to disappointment. Whether that means returning to your favorite destination or favorite hotel, you’re likely to notice all of the things that aren’t the same as before.

Therefore if I do travel, in the next couple of years I plan to focus exclusively on new experiences. I want to visit places and stay at hotels where I haven’t been before, because that way I won’t constantly take note of all of the things that aren’t the same anymore.

Instead any of my upcoming travel will focus on places that are as safe as possible, where social distancing is easy, and where the focus is the outdoors, whether that’s Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, or somewhere else.

Bottom line

It’s a new era, and as much as we’re grateful to have had the opportunity to dine out once again, we actually don’t miss it that much. Dining out is just a reminder of how things aren’t the way they used to be… and that’s absolutely how it should be.

However, fortunately we were able to adjust our lives a bit, including finally having home-cooked meals, and as far as I’m concerned we’re better off for it.

When we start to travel, our focus won’t be on trying to repeat past experiences, since that will likely lead to disappointment. Instead it’s time for a new era of travel as well, eventually traveling to places where the focus is on the outdoors, easy social distancing, etc. And frankly that’s kind of what we’ve always enjoyed anyway.

Just as the restaurant situation has pushed us to pursue home-cooked meals, hopefully the travel situation pursues us to change our travel style a bit as well.

If you’ve dined out since restaurants have reopened, what has your experience been like?

Comments
  1. The food does look very good, but the overall experience sounds miserable. A cop walking around enforcing masks? Nope. Having to sit on the same side of a table? Nope.

    I’ll wait for things to go back to the way it was. However long that takes.

    Frankly, I wish there was pill you could take to sleep through the next two years.

  2. Again, the purpose of these restrictions are to ease back into normal life while the virus is still circulating. Hopefully, as cases slow down, treatments are available, and we get a better handle on how to treat the virus, restrictions will gradually be relaxed. I bet the experience at this restaurant will be very different even a few weeks from now.

  3. Sorry if I missed it, but I couldn’t find where in the post you explained why you were dining at.. 3pm?

  4. Police cannot legally enforce the policies of private businesses. I’m sure they will attempt to intimidate, however. A crime would be a different story. Likely it was an off-duty officer working a second job as security and in costume to lend an air of legitimacy. The restaurant can ask you to leave/trespass you if you do not adhere to the policy, or for whatever reason, but they cannot force you to wear a mask.

  5. $19 for a hamburger?! Maldives, etc. prices aren’t looking so bad if that’s the going rate at home. 😉

  6. I LOVE the Hillstone Group as well, great choice for a first dining out experience…That being said, yeah, #nope about sums it up…That does not sound enjoyable….And really, a cop walking around the restaurant…??? Exactly what kind of ticket can he write, lol…???

  7. Interesting post.

    @Lucky @Tiffany, I think the word “way” is missing in the sentence, “With that out of the, a few thoughts”.

  8. @Johosofat – “We’ve started intermittent fasting, so we usually only eat between the hours of 9AM and 5PM,”

    @Ben – Very interesting post and observations, especially the connection to travel. However, I think your experience at Hillstone may not be how all dining experiences will be elsewhere. For example, I visited Santa Barbara last weekend and some of the restaurants there were really busy and while the restaurants seemed to do what they can to distance the tables and people, the general vibe of the restaurants were that people were having a great old time. Also, I think this is a very temporary measure and things will gradually start returning back to normal.

  9. I had previously held Hillstone in fairly high regard. While undoubtedly they have strict standards to ensure consistent guest experiences, they came down on the wrong side of the line when they banned employees from wearing masks during their initial reopening phases, for the sake of preserving their “image.” It took a judge’s injunction to get management to change their policy, which also contradicted local and state directives.

    It’s one thing to not mandate masks, but another thing entirely to ban them period, especially for employees who don’t have a choice to just pick up and go elsewhere. I won’t be doing business with or recommending them to anybody going forward.

    https://dallas.eater.com/2020/5/8/21251978/judge-orders-hillstone-employee-allowed-to-wear-mask

  10. This all sounds fairly reasonable to me. Why a cop? Because it has been shown over and over again, too many idiots can’t be trusted. You guys seem to be taking a sensible approach, and this place seems OK and your experience seems pretty good to me (I’ve never heard of this chain, I’m assuming it’s a southeast thing). Prices do seem pretty steep to me (a $19 cheeseburger?) – I’m wondering if you noticed if the prices have gone up since pre-COVID, or is that just the going rate in this part of Florida?

  11. I concur completely with Ford’s assessment. Dining out is as much about ambience as it is about the food. The cop walking around enforcing face mask policy was probably necessary but a real buzz kill, reminding you once again that the virus is in charge at the moment and we are all prisoners. I may return to business travel in the coming months but leisure travel will wait this thing out.

  12. @ Dick Bupkiss — No changes to the prices here. While this place isn’t cheap, it’s also not outrageous by Miami standards, given that it can be a pricey city.

  13. @ Johosofat — We’ve been intermittent fasting, so can only eat and drink between 9AM and 5PM (give or take). Hence the 3:15PM reservation…

  14. @ Thatsweird — It’s not an off duty officer, Hillstone Coral Gables has always had a police officer present there because of how crowded it can get. In this particular case I don’t think he was enforcing the policy in a “legal” matter, but rather was just politely reminding people of the rules (and then the restaurant could make the decision of whether to kick someone out). Nobody was being intentionally uncooperative, though.

  15. @Anthony, “restrictions will gradually be relaxed. I bet the experience at this restaurant will be very different even a few weeks from now.”

    Restaurants can’t make money like this (their margins were never high). Depending on how well capitalized they are, and how long the restrictions last, many (probably most independents) will just go out of business. Once things eventually go back to the way they were, we’ll again have restaurants, but they’ll be *different* restaurants.

    @All wondering about the prices, welcome to big coastal cities. Enjoy the prices in fly over land.

  16. We love that location. We live in London so when in town we either eat at that location, or the one in Park Ave South in NYC. I also love the dirty martinis, so hard to find a good one in Europe. I am so jelly.

  17. I just came back from having dinner here in Germany and the experience was great. We did not have to wear masks and it all seemed to be as before.
    I am therefore also looking forward to our first domestic trip since March which is starting tomorrow. Let us hope that international travel will also resume soon.
    Personally I have booked a carribean cruise for august and I still hope I will be able to take it.

  18. Dining out in Arizona has been a better experience:

    -No masks required for guests
    -Social distancing is enforced by table spacing (and not a lot of people being out)
    -Ahi tartare only $15 and not served with random deviled egg.

    I’m going to cruise through my Hilton Amex dining credit starting Monday…

  19. In addition to thinking about our own safety, we need to think about the safety of others and especially of the places we visit. The US is one of the worst hotspots in the world for covid, and I live in a city, DC, that is even worse than that. If I travel to a “safe” country, and do so without testing, I am putting that community at risk. The places I enjoy visiting are also not well equipped with health care facilities. So until I have a vaccine or can with (scientific) confidence know that I’m not putting others at risk, I’m not going to travel. Yes, Iceland seems the best choice bc they are offering testing and they are better equipped with their good health care system, but I’m even wary of that. I definitely will not set foot in Africa until I get a vaccine. Coming from South Florida, you are in one of the worst places in the world for getting and spreading covid, and your young age makes it more likely that you would be asymptomatic and spread the virus to other places without knowing it. Please consider the safety of others before making travel plans. I have a good life and many good years of travel ahead of me so I am going to take probably a year or two away from travel. That’s a pretty small amount of my privileged traveling life.

  20. @Jeff – well said, very well said. I wish more folks took this clear-eyed and responsible approach. I agree 100% with everything you posted here. Thank you.

  21. Ben, I say this with all kinds of love: man, you guys are bored 😀 From the pious over-compliance through the clear signs of needing to make up things to ‘adhere’ to at home (I.F. for two gents with BMIs under 22, for example – not necessarily something you’d need to promote in an age when we’re talking about celebrating positive body images).

    It’s good to see you guys are out and about, though. Let down your hair a little, it’s what life is for 😉 Hugs!

  22. would be cool if this site did more restaurant reviews since you cant do real airplane ones.
    then the travel snobs would be quiet for a bit maybe.
    we all gotta eat….we dont all get to fly 1st class

  23. Sod that sounds like a hastle more then somewhere I would spend money

    Hong kong seems to have a more mature approach to eating out

  24. My wife and I have been out twice (in two weeks) since lockdowns were lifted. Keeping in mind that dining out allows us to escape from our four teenage children for a couple of hours, we may actually like it better.
    Where we are, masks are not required for the patrons, only for the staff, so that is definitely better than your experience. All tables here are tables for four and you can sit on opposite sides, so also better here. In theory, we would have to wait outside until a table was ready, but, so far, they aren’t doing enough business that we have had to wait. Not having to wait for a table is the first better thing right now. The other better thing is that the tables aren’t all crammed together and it is so quiet. It allows you to have a conversation with the people at your table at a normal volume and not be overheard by anyone. It is almost like fine dining at casual dining restaurants!
    We definitely have somewhat more relaxed rules here, but then we have averaged 1.4 new cases per day for the last month in our city of 1.4 million people, so everything is pretty safe here.
    Really, our biggest issue is that with a 50% capacity restriction, many of our favorites have still not reopened, our choices, so far, are really sparse.

  25. Glad you (sort of) enjoyed your ‘dinner’ out. But going forward, if that’s what restaurant dining entails, I’ll be cooking and eating at home. For YEARS if necessary.

    P.S. It’s great Ford is learning to cook – though you may find after a while that food in restaurants isn’t quite as good as you remembered it being. Two bites in, I often wish the restaurant chef had let me into his kitchen for just three minutes before he plated my meal, because with a dab of this and a pinch of that, I could have made it much tastier…

  26. NYC West Village last night,7 PM on my way to dinner at friend, brownstone with large garden. Passed a just re-opened restaurant on 6th Avenue, crowded on sidewalk, maybe 3-deep, average age 25-ish, amost nobody wearing masks, seemed also quite packed inside which surprised me, but not sure as I was in car looking for parking.

    Our dinner was 3 people around large table for 6/8 inside garden courtyard, no masks outside, masks inside and we all tested neg 4 /5 days ago. We were abt 200/300 ft from restaurant

    Heard some commotion during dinner, paid no attention. I left around 10 PM, restaurant closed again with police car in front of it, I asked officer what happened. Answer: “Neighbors complained as unsafe, we went to check and it was. People will have to adjust”.

  27. Lucky, very disappointed that you dined here of all places and are promoting them on your blog. This restaurant group obviously cares nothing about its employees and they are one of the greedy problems plaguing America. Shame on you for keeping this article posted, as it has been shared above the awful practices of this business.

  28. @Jeff
    Very sensible, yet so many selfish Americans will not care for the well being of others, because “freedom”. They don’t even care about their own community and countrymen, how can they be expected to give a crap about anyone else?

  29. I live on South Beach, & was happy as a pig in poop to “dine out” at the Subway on Biscayne Blvd & 24th yesterday. It’s a huge Subway, & I was the only in-restaurant diner. But it felt great to relax, get out of the house & experience a slice of life. Plus I had a $2 off coupon on my Subway app. And @Jeff, I’m totally compliant with Miami Beach directives, but I still have gotten up every day between 5-6am & walked 4 miles for exercise. Life goes on, it just goes on with hand washing, hand sanitizer & masks.

  30. @jeff – how sanctimonious of you! Next you’ll want to apply for sainthood! Give it a rest. People will travel (hopefully taking reasonable precautions and not going if they know they are sick) but I can’t control everyone else and am not about to become a hermit to avoid potentially giving someone the virus. Frankly it is everyone’s responsibility to take care of themselves and if they are at high risk then PLEASE stay home. Again, not grabbing people, ignoring mask requirements or coughing on people but will responsibly travel, dine out, shop, etc and if someone gets sick that is just the way things are.

  31. It has been long enough. Remember we all were doing this for “flattening the curve”. We never were going to eliminate this or beat it in any way, any more than we beat the flue, swine flue, or other corona type virus as they present.

    We have killed entire sectors of the economy, the aviation industry is a prime example. People are dying from other issues, and don’t get me wrong, the over 100k people who have passed from this disease are not insignificant. But in many ways we have reacted to this unlike any other exposure situation in the past.

    Perhaps we will rebound, I certainly hope so, but if much of this is the new normal it is certainly an unfortunate and uncomfortable normal we have accepted.

    I am with you Lucky in it is great that we can go out now, but what if it is 4 people, lets say a birthday party of 10.

    Where do they sit, how far apart and I guess passed apps are out as well.

    Lets hope and pray that somehow we can find a magic potion, spell or even the spray of cleanliness that will allow things to progress.

  32. I wholeheartedly agree about the disappointment component. Don’t see the point in leisure travel & dining where most of what you want to see, do, & eat is restricted & anxiety-filled. That said I love HS’s Thai salad – at pick-up!

  33. Great post. I love three things in life—travel, good food and wine, and uhhh—yeah starts with s. You can do all three when you travel. But, the experience now is as you say “not gonna be the same”. The news normal. For a few years.

  34. The masks do nothing but if it makes people feel better whatever. In fact, most people touch their face and mask so much, you are more likely to get
    It. Don’t make me queue up all the CDC and WHO comments from mid feb to late March saying they were less than worthless. I won’t dine at a restaurant that forces me to wear one and less likely to dine at restaurants that have employees a wearing them for the reason I mentioned above. I’ve dined our about 10 times in the last month, which is less than normal but obviously more than April.

  35. @Ben & @Ford In the context of your restaurant experience, just think about what this means for the cruise business (and those travel advisor partners, including consortiums, whose major revenue source are cruise bookings. To be able to function at all, no less meet CDC guidelines, the onboard experience will need to be turned upside down. And while there is certainly a core group of avid cruisers (many, though over 65 years of age and or with health conditions) who say they are ready now to embark on their favorite cruise ships as soon as operations resume, I dare say once exposed to the onboard regulations heavily impacting and changing the experience they remember, they will react negatively and find themselves regretting their booking. This is a warning to travel advisors who in the effort to sell, don’t communicate the changes in detail to their clients (and it’s incumbent on the cruise lines to be transparent about this).

  36. RE: The masks do nothing, but if it makes people feel better…

    Long before the pandemic, I traveled quite a bit to Asia for work. I used to joke that every time I flew to Asia, I would catch a cold/flu. Very inconvenient when needing to work.

    I noticed how many people routinely wore masks there when out. I also noticed folks wearing masks on airplanes. So, I bit the bullet, and while in Hong Kong, I bought a supply of face masks. I began wearing them every time I flew. I also used hand wipes to clean the area around my seat.

    From the moment I added these precautions to my travel routine, my health improved. No more colds/flu. I expanded my regimen to all travel, personal and work. Sure, I got some looks and folks who told me that the face mask was worthless as a preventive measure. But it worked for me. And so through this pandemic, I proudly wear my mask and encourage others to do it as well.

  37. Not sure why people are critical of wearing masks. It is very selfish as you could be the asymptomatic superspreader. No doubt the reason cases have been so low here in Japan and other parts of Asia is the culture of wearing masks. Masks save lives and are a sign of respect for the people around you.

    Because cases are so low in Japan and the state of emergency lifted, we will take a 4 night trip to the Hakone Hyatt Regency. This will involve all meals in their restaurants, which we look forward to. We were last there in February before the state of emergency and even then breakfast had shifted from a buffet to a lovely multi course spread. I will be curious how full it is, especially on the weekend. Although many restaurants remained open in Tokyo during the emergency, we have been eating at home, so it will be a nice break and I expect Hyatt has good cleanliness procedures in place.

  38. @Lucky
    Hopefully, there will ( eventually) NOT be a new normal. . With time and an effective vaccine this virus will fall back into the other category of “normal” flu viruses that spring up every year . The wearing of masks and social distancing will become less and less prevalent. Unlike the post 9-11 travel, which has become and will probably always be a new normal, (even if not always strictly adhered to at times by some airports and airlines) with its security and checks etc. Yet even that is getting watered down as decades go by. Remember the plastic cutlery in business and first ?

  39. I’ve always loved sitting apart from people. For years I’ve loved getting a 4-top all to myself, or at least a 4-top for 2, taking one side each. I can’t breathe freely otherwise. Which, oddly enough, is often the enforced seating in covid situations.

    I used to dine out everyday circa 2011-15, but I stopped doing that because business is so good that the experience has eroded at most restaurant chains I visit. Just like airlines, their solution to good business isn’t proper expansion, but to squeeze us in more, nickel and dime us more because they know we’d come and we’d be unsuspecting.

    By late 2018 my experiences have gotten so tenuous, dining out is no longer leisurely. My local Chili’s changed all their suppliers, and nothing tastes the same anymore. They cut the refills to just once, raised prices and cut portions. But I discovered I can buy a double whopper, reheat it at home, and get most the utility. Good enough for me…

    So coming from that journey…some of the larger restaurant chains are not innocent victims of a freak crisis. I’d venture to say some of their business practices deserved this covid-19 bitchslap as a wake-up call. They’ve had it too easy and had begun to rip off their patrons. They take it for granted that we can’t help but keep going out no matter how good or bad the dining is…which was also the airlines’ mentality. I’m glad they got the cold shower they deserve.

  40. I love Hillstone, too. Great food, good service. I venture down to Fort Lauderdale about 4 times a year and I always make a stop at the Hillstone in Bal Harbour. It’s not the cheapest place to eat but i never leave disappointed.

  41. Have any Miamians visited a favorite of mine Capital Grille on Brickell recently?
    If yes how did it compare with pre corona days?
    Cap Grille will be my first dining experience one of these days.

    Was happy to venture out yesterday for my first haircut in 12 weeks at JC on 15 st Miami Beach and the good folks wore high grade masks and did their usual excellent job.

  42. Love how the same people saying “This craziness has to stop” are likely the same ones swearing that Pizzagate, QAnon, the Deep State, etc. are totally real and happening right now

  43. Sorry. Realised now food only allowed between 9-5 ( which is pretty normal for Europeans ). I suggest you push it at least to 13 or 14 for the first meal ( 8 hours window ) so you really feel the benefits of IM. Better than that, progresses to OMAD. Food never felt so tasty, mind clarity and such a good sleep. Don’t see the point of not having any water ( it’s only bad for you ) and coffee is also ok and It doesn’t kick you out of ketosis. Well done.

  44. If that’s the typical restaurant experience in So Flo, then yes, that sounds miserable. My experience (Collin County, Texas) has been more along the lines of @Sel. Every other table is blocked off, the staff were masks & gloves and give the tables an extra cleaning between uses, and we see disposable menus rather than real ones. I figured waits would be a problem but I haven’t run into any lines. Other than the places being less busy than usual, I honestly can’t say it feels a whole lot different than before. We stick with mom & pop restaurants and try to pick off-peak times, and our county has like 330 active cases for a population of around 1 million, so it’s a bit apples and oranges to dining at a place like Hillstone where you live.

  45. First meal anywhere between 12 13 or 14 o’clock for a 4 hours eating window and 20 hours fast. Then it gets really easy to switch to OMAD.

    Forgive me.

  46. I appreciate the review. Dining here in nj is not expected for another two weeks. When it comes, I will probably wait another week and then only outside.

    That being said, that looks like a really sad $19 burger. It’s like 80% bread. If you do start reviewing more food, I hope you’re a little more critical of it!

  47. Have to agree with @James s regarding the hamburger! With $19 being at the lower end of that eye-poppingly expensive menu, by the time you add taxes and at least 20% tip (we know you’re an excessive tipper) that makes a mighty expensive burger!
    Choosing a burger for a restaurant meal seems a little odd too, but maybe Ford went for something simple/bland after churning out haute cuisine at home every day!

  48. @Ryan So, who cares if he mentions them in HIS blog. Your pathetic attempt at shaming Lucky just makes you look like a pretentious fool.

  49. @Wade, your post shows how ignorant you are. A significant number of deaths and hospitalizations are people under age 60. In Japan (where infections and deaths are a lot lower than the US) the single biggest age group on a per population basis with Covid-19 are people in their 20s. Further, you may think you are only potentially infecting young people because you are hanging out in a hip bar, but that person you infected may have a grandparent at home or infect their child who then goes off and infects their teacher. What is your problem with wearing a mask, washing your hands and social distancing from strangers? You could save a life, including your own!

  50. It really sounds like a horrible experience. Why would a restaurant make you wait when you have a booking, in particular when the bar is closed and they can’t rip you off sending you there …

  51. Thanks for this post – very interesting to get your take on eating out.

    I had my first meal out since corona this week myself. In my country (European and with low spread), restaurants were never completely shut down though for a short period only take away was allowed. Masks are not mandatory anywhere here except for medical personnel.

    Comparing my experience to yours: social distancing is ensured by table spacing (1 metre) between parties, and establishments have a limit of people per party which can vary. There is a max limit of 50 people in total, due to increase to 200 soon. Menus were reusable, nobody wore a mask or gloves and tables were sanitised after each use. Apart from that, eating out here is the same as it was before – I would say even more enjoyable as it’s been so long!

    I felt perfectly safe, but then again we have had less than 250 deaths out of a population of just over 5 million. I can honestly say that any country/destination with similar SOP as you explained will not be on my list until they’re changed. Luckily I’m a patient man, and there are plenty of places to see and eat in my own country.

  52. @ Wade, Is death your only concern? It isn’t about saving lives as much as it is avoiding overwhelming the medical system and spreading a horrible disease for which there is not yet an effective treatment. This is a virus that has put many people into the hospital of all ages. The reason you wear a mask is to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed again. Already we are seeing Alabama left with virtually no ICU beds. Even for people not requiring hospitalization it typically takes several weeks to recover and many people have lingering effects. I know a 30-year-old man who was in amazing shape who had Covid in March. He still can’t run. He was not hospitalized but is still impacted months later. You are clearly a very selfish person with no idea of the gravity of this disease. Sure, 80% of people who have it have limited impact, but they could spread it and make someone else very sick. It is Russian Roulette. Not a game any sensible person wants to play with a potentially grave and sometimes deadly virus.

    And at this point looking at the death rate relative to the global population is statistically irrelevant as the pandemic has not spread and those of us in Asia are a lot smarter than those people in the US as we wear masks, wash our hands and stay healthy. So the death rate here (I am in Japan) is way lower than the US.

  53. @Janet It’s probably useless to argue with Wade. This is the same guy that commented on another post that Covid 19 is the best thing to happen since the Holocaust. He’s obviously mentally unstable. If you’re curious, those comments were made on the post about the person who tries to fly while knowingly having Covid-19. Just so you can see the unbalances nature of this person.

  54. First, ya’ll look good! How come you look good in masks and I look like a bird? lol! I am surprised there was a police officer but understand. Haven’t had that but that could be because I’m in Texas and well, Texans. I like the break from all the doom and gloom of news and get to see some out and about fun.

  55. Thanks for sharing the experience, Ben. Curious how this will differ in various parts of the country.

    I must say, I’ve never heard of Hillstone before so I went to their website to check it out. Even pre-COVID this seems like a pretty high maintenance restaurant with lots of rules posted on their website about attire, substitutions, taking back the table after a certain amount of time, no large groups, etc. (although I like the part about not being kid-friendly!). Not sure I’d really be that in to a place that seems to full of itself and so unfriendly before you even step foot in the door.

  56. @lucky – I’m really curious how you’ll change your travel style now since your doing IF. You used to constantly eat on planes and lounges and be in different time zones. I honestly don’t understand how you’ll make these two things compatible. Have you even thought about it and would you be willing to discuss it?

  57. @Jesse – you would think championing the Holocaust and basically advocating for eugenics would be good for a permanent block, but apparently that hasn’t happened yet.

  58. @ Will — That’s a great question. This is something we obviously started doing at a time with virtually no travel, so it has been easy to maintain a routine. To be sure, I’m not sure how this will continue when we do travel again. I have three overall thoughts:
    — I could see this being something we do when we’re home and not traveling, because that’s when it’s most practical; in the next year or two it’s not like we’ll be traveling half the time
    — Even just the lessons I’ve learned from IF will stick with me even if I’m not doing it strictly, like just not snacking as much out of boredom
    — I feel like I generally could do it when traveling if it weren’t for the fact that part of my job is reviewing travel experiences, and that includes food on planes, at hotels, etc.

    If anyone does IF and has experience with it when traveling, I’d love to hear it!

  59. @ Ryan — Totally agree, they have a lot of rules, and I think that’s both for better and worse. I think the rules in some way create a consistent experience, but in other ways cross the line a bit.

  60. @ glenn t — It’s not usually what he orders there, but Ford has been doing an amazing job cooking all kinds of other things, and he hadn’t enjoyed a burger in months, hence his choice.

  61. @ Ryan — Goodness, I wasn’t aware of Hillstone trying to prevent employees from wearing masks. I’m totally not okay with that, and I’ve stated that in the comments and updated the post to reflect that.

    But you’re saying “shame on me” for keeping the post up? I should take the post down about dining out because a restaurant had a policy I wasn’t aware of (which, again, I’m totally not cool with)?

  62. Lucky- ok, “shame on you” is a little much, and I can admit that. That said, this blog post being kept posted into eternity means promotion for this restaurant will last forever. I don’t think they deserve that. At the least, the name of the restaurant could be masked or taken out.

    Obviously this is your blog and you can do what you want.

  63. @ Ryan — I’m not going to rewrite history and pretend I didn’t go to the restaurant. Look at the note I added to the very top of the section about “I love Hillstone.” I think pointing out my dissatisfaction with that so visibly does more harm to them than completely leaving out the brand. I have no plan to go there again soon…

  64. PLEASE… All,

    There are millions of boards on political correctness, social issues of all kinds in restaurants and elsewhere, and I participate in them if and when I have something to say. THIS is a place to discuss travel (or lack thereof…), not to vent on how good you are and how bad the other person is.

    Boys, boys, boys (including Lucky…) could you go back to the topics and maybe move all your relative rightneousnesses at least to PMs?

  65. Hillstone = Houston’s = Bandera = Gulfstream = a few other brands I can’t remember, all similar design aesthetic & food…there are a few theories why they don’t have a consistent name nationally, but it’s the same company.

    Having been to them in a half dozen states = the food is great, service quite good, and they are always, always insanely packed.

  66. The cook or wait staff could be sick and infect hundreds. Already, hairdressers have done this. 40% of the sick are asymptomatic, 1% die, 5% have life long health consequences, 20% felt like they have never been sicker in the entire life. If you are diabetic you are high risk. If you seem healthy but have high blood pressure even co trolled with medication, you have an underlying medical condition that puts you at higher risk to be among the dead. Be safe. Don’t go out except when necessary except for stroll in the backyard or deserted street.

  67. Lucky- Just saw that! I approve. Well played, I love your blog, and Ford’s prive service (with Aaron Ingersoll, too).

  68. Evidence indicates that the COVID-19 mortality rates are no higher than historic rates for influenza. Not convinced all of the COVID-19 protocols and related fear mongering are warranted.

  69. @Robert, it is not just the mortality rate but the potential to make many people very ill. In a little more than 2 months almost 2m people on the US have been diagnosed with Covid-19. Many others likely had a mild case that wasn’t tested. While many have had mild cases, hundreds of thousands have had lingering problems, much worse than with influenza. So it is common sense to take moderate measures like masks, hand sanitation and social distancing until there is a vaccine or better treatments to enable people to get back to work. We can treat influenza but not Covid-19. It is a new normal but a lot better than being hit with a lingering illness. You do not have the right to make me sick, and I don’t have the right to make you sick. Why is that so hard to accept?

  70. @Robert, your statement that “…the COVID-19 mortality rates are no higher than historic rates for influenza” is simply not true. Here’s a link to a fair, balanced report on the differences between Covid -19 and the Flu: https://www.livescience.com/new-coronavirus-compare-with-flu.html

    Note that “…The death rate from seasonal flu is typically around 0.1% in the U.S., according to news reports…Among reported COVID-19 cases in the U.S., nearly 6% have died…” The story goes into more detail around the subtle differences between the two.

  71. @walester, sorry, but you saying that it is a fair, balanced report, does not make it a fair, balanced report. And the quote you pulled out makes it very clear that it is not a fair, balanced report. While what they wrote is absolutely true, it is comparing apples to oranges. the fatality rate for the flu is an estimate, while the fatality rate for COVID is based on reported cases. Two completely different measurements that both they and you have tried to make look like they are the same thing. If the fatality rate for COVID was calculated in the same way that the flu fatality rate is estimated, the fatality rate for COVID will likely be somewhere between 0.2 to 0.5%, right about where it is for countries that have done very high levels of testing and in places where serotesting has been done. If the fatality rate for the flu was calculated only on cases where the patient was tested and confirmed to have the flu, it would be ridiculously high because almost no one gets tested for the flu. While Robert almost certainly stated as fact that it is the same as the flu when it is almost certainly at least twice as deadly and probably three time or more as deadly, he was not off by nearly as much as your counter argument made it appear to be, at likely 20 times the actual fatality rate.

  72. Friends of ours have dined out, we have not. Evan and I are both cooking again and honestly, there are many things about dinner out that we don’t miss. The “wait time”, blaring music, and the “girls gone wild” table.

    I prefer to order curbside pick up and Texas let’s you order cocktails to go!

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