The Risks of Opening (and Not Opening) for Indoor Dining

This post originally appeared on February 20, 2020 in Amanda Kludt’s newsletter “From the Editor,” a roundup of the most vital news and stories in the food world each week. Read the archives and subscribe now.

I’m curious about your position on indoor dining. I’ve read through all the articles, here and elsewhere, about why it is dangerous for customers and workers. I’ve listened to my epidemiologist mother complain about the risks of indoor dining in her region. I’ve received texts and emails from restaurant workers telling me about unreported COVID outbreaks at their restaurants. Meanwhile, my friends who are dining inside in other cities tell me how rarely they are asked for contact info, how customers almost never wear masks between courses.

But I’ve also read the entreaties from restaurant owners who are opening to save their businesses and the livelihoods of their employees. I’ve talked to restaurateurs who feel good about the lengths they’ve gone to to make their spaces as safe as possible. I see the unemployment numbers. I see the food insecurity in my own neighborhood.

My main take is that I envy those with strong enough convictions to know what the right answer is.

This debate (and it is a debate) isn’t new. In most of America, indoor dining has been going strong for the last month — if not the last six. And the tension at play is one that’s been explored over and over again this past year: lives versus livelihoods (when livelihoods often equal lives if you have no social safety net).

When our critic Ryan Sutton and I were discussing his piece about the premature reopening of indoor dining in New York, we agreed he should lay the blame on the government, which has left this restaurant community out to dry. Yes, if we were in a perfect world, the government would shut down restaurants and pay everyone to stay home and unemployed. They would get workers vaccinated before opening dining rooms. But we live in this world.

So I don’t envy restaurant owners who see opening as the only way to save their businesses and their staff, or workers who see returning to work as the most viable option for staying afloat. I don’t fault their customers for supporting them. Takeout may keep the lights on for some businesses, but it’s not bringing back very many jobs. At the same time, critics aren’t wrong to think indoor dining is dangerous, because it is. If you’ve lost a family member to COVID, there’s no justification for keeping businesses open before community spread is greatly reduced.

So on Eater, you’ll see reports on the risks of dining out and the impossible decisions high-risk workers have to make before going back to work. You’ll see our writers’ opinions about those risks and restaurant owners’ opinions about opening inside. You’ll read about an industry divided. You’ll also see maps and guides that include restaurants that are open for indoor dining, because people can make their own decisions.

As someone who oversees a team of journalists in over two dozen cities who are in contact with restaurant owners and workers every single day, all I can say is this is such a painful story, and the journalists, restaurant owners, workers, and diners are wracked with fear, unease, guilt, uncertainty, and anger.

For this and so many other reasons, I’m anxious to get to the other side.

Please send me your thoughts to

On Eater

A snowy Nixta Taqueria

A snowy Nixta Taqueria in Austin
Nixta Taqueria/Facebook

The biggest story this week is, of course, the winter storms that impacted many of our cities across the U.S. and absolutely devastated much of Texas. Restaurants rallied to feed people in need, serve as warming stations, and offer fresh water. Mutual aid networks activated to respond to the crisis, while farmers worried about the long-term implications for crops and livestock. Our full coverage is here.

— San Francisco restaurant workers will be eligible for the vaccine on February 24, while LA’s and D.C.’s will be eligible in March. Meanwhile, an employee at Red Hook Tavern in Brooklyn was allegedly fired for refusing to get the coronavirus vaccine.

— Restaurants and pubs in London probably won’t be able to reopen until May.

— California plans to award $2.1 billion in aid to restaurants and bars and $125 million to undocumented workers.

— Guy Fieri opened a string of ghost kitchens in 23 states and Washington, D.C.

— Wild to me that in the last month, Osteria Morini, Cote, Uchi, and Carbone all opened in Miami.

— Our well-meaning attempt to support Asian-American communities via consumption is a start, but it’s not going to be enough to fight the intense Sinophobia in this country.

A spread of dishes from Lazy Susan: chow mein, stir-fried broccoli, and orange chicken

A spread at Lazy Susan in San Francisco
Joseph Weaver

I love this piece about how pop culture has pushed the “lunchbox moment” — when a child of immigrants is bullied for their school lunch — in immigrant narratives when for so many, it’s not representative of their experience.

— If you didn’t make pizza babka this month, what were you doing?

— A new restaurant opening in San Francisco aspires to be the Domino’s for Chinese-American food.

— A look at how much one D.C. restaurant had to invest in takeout containers, outdoor heaters, and cleaning supplies to get through this pandemic year.

— Watch: How a sushi chef transformed his four omakase restaurants into upscale takeout operations.

Off Eater