Is This the Future of Dining Out in Italy?

It has become obvious to most of the world at this point that “going back to normal” after this health crisis won’t be normal at all. Things about our daily lives are going to have to change, even after lockdown measures ease. 

We are now on our 38th day of lockdown, and we will definitely go past the definition of quarantine. Only essential businesses remain open, meaning that we can have one person per family go to the supermarket or pharmacy, with limited numbers allowed into stores at any one time. In a slight relaxation of the rules, some Italian regions have also allowed bookstores and children’s clothing shops to reopen from mid-April. However, all restaurants and bars in Italy remain closed.

I am going to let that sink in again because it is just so crazy to think about. In a country famous for its food, every. single. restaurant. is. closed. While some other countries allow take away, that is not the case in Italy. Many businesses have managed to set up some food delivery services (these are allowed if proper health protocols are observed) but a vast majority have simply shut their doors. These businesses are still paying high rent on their large locales and may be dealing with other expenses related to unused food and drink, insurance, and staffing costs. All of this is coming at a time when they have zero income to offset the regular operating costs.

Many of these bars and restaurants will not open again, and that is so sad for the people who have poured their lives into creating these experiences and into feeding us exceptionally well for so long. It is also still unclear when they will be able to do so, and under what safety precautions.

Italy’s current full lockdown is currently in place through May 3rd (conveniently encompassing some major Italian public holidays that would otherwise be full of travel). The government has suggested that phase II of the coronavirus response will last 6 to 8 months with a gradual relaxing of restrictions. Businesses and public institutions will open on a rolling basis, and there is no announced date for when restaurants will be allowed to resume operations.

One Modena-based company, NuovaNeon Group 2, has tried to imagine what it will look like when these usually bustling trattorie and pizzerie are allowed to open once more. Their proposed solution are plexiglass dividers at the tables like this:

plexiglass restaurant divider

These have already become common in Rome at pharmacies and markets. I even took a taxi for the first time yesterday, only to see that the back of the cab is now divided from the driver by a full plastic covering.

While I know that normal won’t be normal for a very long time, the idea of eating in a plastic cubicle feels so dystopian. Eating out in Italy is a social experience as much as gastronomic one. With the need to continue social distancing, we do need to consider how Italian restaurants will function. However, I can’t honestly say that I would really be willing to eat out if this is what was required. I would likely wait – and the waiting would likely mean more of my favorite eateries closing. 

What are some of the other options for eating out in Italy in the nearish future?

I imagine that you will need a reservation. It was always important to have a reservation in Rome, but now it will be essential as restaurants need to limit the number of people inside at any one time. Tables will also have to be further apart. 

I can also see staff being required to wear masks and gloves. I simply don’t know how customers would be able to do the same, though.

I hope to see an increase in takeaway availability. This is what I would be most comfortable with personally, at least in the short term. 

However, you probably won’t be paying at the register, which used to be the norm. This will likely disappear in order to limit people lining up and gathering too close together. 

So – would you eat out in Italy if it meant eating behind a divider? Or what do you see happening with the food industry instead?

P.S. if you want to keep up with what is happening here, these are the best English sources of news about Italy.

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