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The Relative Safety of Outdoor Dining

From the Editor: Everything you missed in food news last week

Outdoor dining in San Francisco
Patricia Chang

This post originally appeared on August 1, 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 am a hardcore Emily Oster devotee. She is an economist and professor who wrote the book on pregnancy, parsing oceans of data and guidance to help rational parents-to-be understand which restrictions are based in science and which are merely taboo.

So I appreciate her new, thorough FAQ for New York magazine on COVID-19 risks, which touches upon outdoor and indoor dining. There’s been a lot of debate publicly, and also privately, in my friend groups and work Slacks, about whether dining out at all is dangerous or ethical and how to best support restaurants, industry workers, and (frankly) our own mental health. (I mentioned this a couple weeks ago, but it’s still top of mind.)

Oster’s take is that dining outside is riskier than taking a socially distanced walk, but safer than many other scenarios. You would need to have a fairly prolonged and mask-free interaction with a restaurant worker or fellow customer to give it to them (or get it from them) outside.

In my outings, I’ve also been pleasantly surprised at how good many places are at following safety protocols, and at how many restaurants have pivoted to counter-service models, where the patron orders at a counter and food is brought to the table, cutting out the interaction with waitstaff. Watching the news about parties and packed patios can overshadow the restaurants that are putting in real work, and may scare some people into a binary mindset: staying in = good, going out = bad. Not all outdoor dining is created equal.

As for indoor dining, Oster says, “The simplest rule is probably: Indoors with other people is bad. If you have to do it, keep it brief and wear a mask.” Bars, meanwhile, should be “avoided at all costs.” Which means no matter how safe the outdoor operations are, here in the Northeast we’ll be back to takeout come winter. I’ll enjoy what I can for now.

On Eater

Closures (August rent is due edition): Tasting-menu spot from a celeb chef Trois Mec, storied fine dining destination Patina, and brand-name ramen import Ippudo in Los Angeles; trendy and critically acclaimed Chinese-Cajun restaurant Le Sia, decade-old Vietnamese restaurant An Choi, Keith McNally’s FiDi brasserie Augustine, and food hall Gansevoort Market in New York; high-profile sandwich and pastry destination High Street on Market in Philadelphia; longtime cafe Anna Lee’s outside of Atlanta; 40-year-old Acadian Bakery and 36-year-old dive Alice’s Tall Texan in Houston; controversial 45-year-old gay bar Badlands and popular seafood spot Anchor & Hope in SF; and flashy import Dominique Ansel bakery in London.

— California Pizza Kitchen filed for bankruptcy.

— Grubhub and Postmates are defying Portland’s delivery commission cap.

— How the latest proposals around unemployment relief and Paycheck Protection Program loans will impact industry workers and owners.

— Scaling back: takeout alcohol in New Orleans; indoor bar service in Upper Michigan; and in Seattle, you now have to confirm you live with the person you’re dining with if you want to eat indoors.

— Here is what outdoor dining looks like in San Francisco and Detroit.

— The struggle for BIPOC food writers to be considered generalists.

A wall of hanging ingredients at Ever in Chicago
Garrett Sweet/Eater Chicago

Openings: Ever, a highly anticipated fine dining restaurant from chef Curtis Duffy in Chicago; Call Your Mother, a Georgetown location of D.C.’s popular bagel shop; Tidbits by Dialogue, a pivot from a tasting-menu spot in LA; a natural wine and tinned fish destination in D.C. that was originally called Barkada (but no longer is, due to cultural appropriation complaints); Street to Kitchen, an exciting new Thai place in Houston; Jimmy’s Dockside, a pivot from a fancy seafood restaurant in Durham; and Baia, a vegan Italian restaurant from empire-builder Matthew Kenney.

— Chef Omar Tate is raising money to open a multifaceted community center in West Philly anchored around food and feeding the neighborhood.

— New Orleans’s Melissa Araujo is taking her Honduran pop-up Alma brick-and-mortar in September.

— The ultimate guide to fruity, milky, and other specialty soft drinks.

— Why chef and restaurateur Preeti Mistry is getting into farming.

— The super-interesting and conflicting history of the mai tai, plus how to make a great one at home.

Off Eater

  • Businesses and institutions are wasting valuable time and money on “hygiene theater” when disinfecting surfaces isn’t what’s going to stop this pandemic. [The Atlantic]
  • If you do nothing else today, please set aside 10 minutes to watch this gorgeous, heart-shattering dance choreographed by the always impressive Kyle Abraham. [Joyce Theater]
  • Dining in a parking garage isn’t that bad after all. [Curbed]
  • Cool story about a man in Philadelphia launching an independent delivery app focused on Black-owned businesses. [Philly Inquirer]
  • Really good analysis on why the big delivery platforms are so problematic. [BIG]