Montrealers are standing at the doors of crisis. Our province, in the interest of public health and safety, is enacting social distancing protocols that for the immediate future will dramatically impact our normal way of life. For many, myself especially, social distancing and self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic will prohibit me from doing something I love to do: eat at Montreal restaurants.
While gyms, cinemas, theatres, music venues, bars, schools and daycares are forced to close, many of our city’s best restaurants have chosen to close as well. Most cite reasons concerning the safety of their staff and guests as well as playing their part in reducing their impact on the spread and propagation of COVID-19. In these times, when our communities need to band together and act in favour of the greater good, it is exactly these types of selfless actions we should be using to set an example. It should be made clear, this is not a vacation for these restaurants and their workers. Everyone is losing money. These businesses cannot operate from home. The cooks, the servers, the dishwashers, these are all wage workers who will make fractions of their already modest salaries during this time, and they are doing this in order to protect themselves and you from getting sick.
As a restaurant worker myself, I am glad to be staying home. My goal at work is to provide each guest with the highest level of hospitality I can offer. I want to treat every person I serve like a friend invited to dinner at my own home. I simply can’t do that when I have to second guess every encounter while I sterilize myself and the room. As a restaurant patron, my emotions are mixed. On one hand, am I glad that I’m not eating in a cramped space surrounded by potentially disease-ridden strangers? Yeah, of course. But I’m maybe more sad that some of my favourite restaurants, places I can walk to for something delicious to eat, now feel impossibly far away.
For the time being, there are still a few restaurants that remain open. It is likely that these restaurants are not still operating as an attempt to cash in on any perceived surplus of business left over by all the closed restaurants, but remain open because, unlike Joe Beef and Nora Gray, these restaurants may simply not be able to survive without revenue even for two weeks. These businesses need your patronage. Should you decide to eat at a restaurant while some are still open please consider the following:
Space may be limited as restaurants are required to adhere to a maximum of 50 per cent occupancy regulation. In a practical sense, that means don’t argue over which table you’re assigned to a “better” table may not be in use in order to maintain a safe distance between customers.
Do not expect to have any type of intimate service. Servers and hosts are unlikely to be hanging coats, nor will they shake your hand at the end of your meal. It’s for both your safety.
If you feel sick, stay home. If the CDC and WHO haven’t hammered this point home yet, let me say it once again. Regardless of whether your symptoms don’t match that of COVID-19, restaurants that are open can only maintain patronage if they can uphold the thinly veiled illusion of being a safe space, relatively free of germs and viruses.
If you have to sneeze or blow your nose, do so discreetly. Sneeze into your elbow, go to the washroom and flush your tissue. This is really advice for dining out any time, but especially now. Some guests seem to think it’s fine to blow their nose at the table and leave a used tissue on their plate for their server to throw away. This is never okay, and it’s extra fucked-up to do that during a global pandemic.
Tip your server extra well. Fifteen per cent is considered the minimum tip for service and that’s if a server succeeds at meeting the basic requirements of service: They sat you down, told you the specials, took your order and brought your food. That 15 per cent service fee should probably be bumped up a bit when you consider that your server likely had to risk their own well-being to get to work and serve you. Eating out at restaurants is a luxury; during this time where income and job security is uncertain for restaurant workers, tipping 20 per cent or more is going to make a dramatic difference in your server’s life. It’s one of the best ways you can show your appreciation.
Perhaps the best thing to consider is that many of our the best restaurants in Montreal are offering take-out and delivery during the COVID-19 crisis. Elena has a take-out and delivery menu, as is Pumpui, who is partnering with Mon Lapin’s Vanya Filipovic to offer wine via delivery in addition to great Thai food. Uber Eats has announced it will waive delivery fees for local restaurants during the outbreak. So maybe the best way to eat out and support small businesses is actually to order in. ■
Stay tuned for Food Team recommendations for Montreal restaurants doing delivery during COVID-19.
For more coverage of the Montreal restaurant scene, see our Food & Drink section.
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