Please Keep Your Coronavirus Panic Out of Restaurants

Restaurants are a place where real humans work, commune and interact — and that's a good thing.

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Editor’s Note: As with all things surrounding COVID-19, the situation changes day by day, minute by minute. At the time of publication, Philly restaurants needed us and we needed them. Now, restaurants are only able to provide takeout and delivery. Stay home. Stay safe. See you on the other side.

It’s not really newsworthy right now to say that coronavirus is affecting the restaurant industry — you almost certainly already know that. We’ve already written about how people had allowed their internalized bias (let’s just say it: racism) to get in the way of their visits to Chinatown. This phenomenon has spread as fast as the virus itself, causing an estimated 50 to 70 percent drop in business for restaurants in Chinatowns across the United States.

It’s not just Chinatown, either: Impending school closures will effect already-vulnerable hourly workers who will no longer have childcare, and since sick leave is a privilege precious few restaurant employees have access to, the prospect of illness is even scarier. So, yeah. We’re not going to tell you that things are great in restaurants right now.

But you don’t want to make it worse, do you? If you find yourself shrinking back in horror every time your server picks up your glass to refill it, or criticizing sanitation standards in the kitchen, you need to think twice about the utility of that scrutiny.

“We have no reason to believe that restaurants are more risky than other locations in Philadelphia,” said James Garrow, director of communications at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. “We encourage folks to continue to frequent their favorite dining establishments and to try some new ones.” In fact, he says, restaurants may be safer than other locations because of their health inspector-required practice of regularly sanitizing high-touch surfaces like tables and bars.

There’s a reason people don’t abandon dining out every year when cold and flu seasons rolls around. Well-run establishments, restaurants owned by people who genuinely care about their business and its longevity, are set up to avoid breeding bacteria and passing along infection. ServSafe requirements keep employees in check, as do routine inspections. Any server worth their snuff will tell you that while everyone else has, apparently, been learning this month the correct way to wash your hands, they’ve been doing the 20-second-scrub for years. Beyond their desire to not infect their guests, restaurant staff are also trying to avoid getting sick themselves. Remember that note about how most of these workers don’t have any paid time off? The stakes are usually higher for hourly workers, who have no interest in losing precious hours, let alone days, off their paychecks.

The truth is that restaurants are places where real, live humans commune. They’re put on earth to be respites from this dirty, solitary world. The irrational panic shopping, the voluntary retreat into isolation isn’t some practical preparedness for a worst-case-scenario, but an all-out grab for control.

So why don’t we, all of us, just go out tonight. Go to your favorite spot. Because these are businesses built on the human connection, which, even in times like these — especially in times like these — is as important as our health.