Restaurants Won't Magically Be Back to Normal Just Because It's 2021

The bar is so low you could trip over it, but rebuilding restaurants is going to take time, says this veteran server.

A waiter wearing a mask delivers food to customers dining outdoors in the West Village on November 20, 2020 in New York City.
Photo: Alexi Rosenfeld / Getty Images

We’ll soon be raising a glass to bid a no-so-fond farewell to the dumpster fire that was 2020. At 12:01 on New Year's Eve, the world will collectively press a reset button in the hopes of starting anew, much like we unplug a cable box or a computer when things are just too glitchy. January 1 may be the beginning of a new year, but it’s basically just another Friday and that simple little Friday has a lot of expectations thrust upon it this year. Just like everyone else on the planet, restaurant owners, restaurant workers, and restaurant customers all have high hopes for a return to some kind of normal in 2021.

Restaurant owners are hoping that in the new year they’ll no longer have to spend money they don’t have on things that won’t be useful anymore. With COVID regulations changing more often than the diaper of a baby who has entirely too many lentils in their diet, owners are constantly reevaluating what they need to purchase in order to stay in business. So many restaurants bought plexiglass shields only to have indoor dining ripped away from them immediately after installing those shields between each and every booth. They long for the day when expensive outdoor heaters and propane tanks aren’t a necessary expense because people won’t have to sit in 25-degree weather to eat out at a restaurant. Besides that, plenty of restaurants bought propane only to learn that storing it legally was way more trouble than it was worth. Restaurant owners are tired of buying ink cartridges and reams of paper to create disposable menus every day. Lysol wipes and rubber gloves should not be a line item expense comparable to beer and wine. They want to spend money on food for customers and tea light candles and cute little flower arrangements that can sit on the table and not have to be wiped down with sanitizer every thirty minutes.

Servers hope that in 2021 we can do away with masks so when we smile at our customers they’ll actually be able to see it. The first few months without the mask, those smiles will probably even be genuine. Whether our customers acknowledge the smile or not won’t matter to us because we’ll just be happy that our ears aren’t being pinched by elastic creating a never-ending headache. In 2021 we’ll get our headaches the old fashioned way, by not drinking enough water and furrowing our brow for three hours straight. Servers look forward to the day when we can move efficiently through the restaurant at a breakneck speed without having to squint through glasses fogged up from our heavy breathing. We want a full capacity restaurant again with an hour-long waiting list and a crowded bar full of people needing a table. We hunger for the chance to be so far in the weeds that we’ll need a map and machete to get out of them.

Customers want 2021 to give them the chance to eat out in large groups again so they can revisit that awkward moment of figuring out how to split the check 12 ways when one person had three margaritas, but someone else just drank water. They want to choose from a full menu instead of the pared-down version they’ve had to suffer through for the last nine months and most of all they want to forget about takeout items that never should have been placed in a box to begin with. (I see you, soggy fried calamari and you too, crème brûlée.) Mostly, they dream of sitting in a restaurant again without feeling wrapped in guilt about being there maskless while their masked server buzzes around them craving a quick gulp of fresh air. (Just kidding, most customers never felt guilty about that.)

2021 has got to be a better year than 2020, if for no other reason simply because the bar is so very incredibly low for it. All 2021 has to do is not let 1500 people a day die from a pandemic and instead let them go back to jobs, restaurants, movies, and the theater. If we get to that point in 2021, it’s automatically way better than its predecessor. Every year, people pin all their hopes on the first day of January looking for a new direction and a better way of living. This year is no different, but we also know there’s no switch that will be flipped to the on position at midnight that will make everything go back to the way it used to be. We won’t immediately reboot our lives, but we will have the chance to look at things from a fresh perspective and with hope. The first day of a new year is the day we can all look for the changes we want to happen. It’s a huge burden to place on a simple Friday, but January 1 is used to that kind of pressure.

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