I miss holding a menu

A student describes how outdoor dining in the colder months isn’t worth it during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Years ago, inside Osteria’s vibrantly lit terrace or outside in their private patio deck, all of my troubles could vanish for a moment as I indulged in their penne alla vodka. 

Before the pandemic, I always highly anticipated going out to eat with my family at Chima or Roccos. 

But now, I don’t enjoy it anymore. Center City District Restaurant Week, a two-week period when local restaurants have three-course lunch and dinner deals, has always been a tradition for my family. 

Now, Restaurant Week, which would typically be scheduled to start this week, hasn’t even been planned yet amid the pandemic restrictions. 

Rather than relaxing and spending time with my family, I’m putting myself at risk of catching COVID-19 and inconveniencing myself for the sake of an expensive meal.

My family and I used to go out to eat multiple times a week. Whenever my mom came home exhausted from a long day at work, we wouldn’t mind skipping the cooking. 

Now, even sitting inside a restaurant is a luxury I don’t have. I don’t want to bundle up in the middle of January, only to quickly shovel piping hot food into my mouth before it gets cold. 

It’s uncomfortable constantly putting on a mask every time my waiter, donned in multiple masks and a face shield, passes by, but I feel guilty if I don’t. I understand it’s important to keep those around me safe, but it’s frustrating putting on a mask while I walk to a table, just to promptly take it off as soon as I sit down. 

Although the quality of the food has not been compromised for the most part, I cannot say the same is true about the atmosphere. Sitting on the streets as cars honk their horns and people walk right up to me, ignoring social distancing, is not particularly romantic. After sitting behind a screen all day for my Zoom classes, the last thing I want to do at dinnertime is pull out my phone, scan a QR code and squint my eyes to look at an online menu. 

I miss the feeling of holding a physical menu in my hands. I miss being able to take my time and catch up with friends and family without being rushed out after my hour-and-a-half time slot is up.

At the end of the semester, my dad would always take me out to Morimoto, one of the most upscale sushi restaurants in the city, if I got good grades. We’d split their sushi platter, which was almost as big as the table. 

But for the past two semesters, we’ve been unable to do this.

Although we still support local restaurants by ordering takeout, it’s not the same. It’s not as fresh, and oftentimes it’s cold by the time I sit down to eat. It’s a hassle to go back and forth to pick up the food if they don’t offer delivery, and even if they do, we’re often waiting a very long time because they’re busy. 

Al fresco dining in the summer wasn’t too bad because the weather was warm, but during the winter it’s almost unbearable. 

I’m certainly looking forward to the simple pleasure of eating inside a restaurant again. But what I’m more excited for is the day when I can go out for brunch with people outside my household and not have to have my temperature checked or answer questions before I can go inside. 

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