I was terrified with beads of sweat trickling down my neck as this mask clad woman led me to a table. It was re-opening weekend for many restaurants in Chattanooga TN after the Covid-19 scare. My husband and I had always loved a night out with a good meal before but this time was different. We had been quarantining in our home, told to avoid crowds and don’t go out unless we needed necessities. But here we were in a half full bar and grill ordering crispy chicken with beer loaded buckets. And it was spectacular.

Eating out lately had became a pleasure served with a side of pain for me. Sure, the food was delicious, good service in most places and the best part was I didn’t have to worry about the dirty dishes lingering in the sink. Sometimes it is worth paying a bit extra to let someone else do the hard work while I sit back and relax, right?

This is where the pain part comes in because it was a hassle just to sit down at a table anymore. Restaurants were overfilling their buildings. Going to dinner felt like we were cattle being led to the feeding trough. You have to squeeze between chairs to sit down. Suffer through stained shirts because the person behind you stood up and bumped the back of your chair at the very moment you raise that glass of red wine. And heading to the restroom with 10 people waiting in line is a 20 minute stress inducing ordeal for the mind and bladder.

I was about to give up on going out all together when the lock down happened. And it couldn’t have come at a better time to force restaurants to make changes that actually benefit the customer experience.

Here are the wonderful delights I found in a post Covid food experience:

  • Room to move – The tables weren’t jammed together like a 5 year olds birthday party anymore. I could walk between the tables and chairs without sucking in my gut doing the sideways shuffle.
  • No more noise pollution – Restaurants are ridiculously loud with blaring music to drown out the conversations of an overstuffed dining room. But since this chicken and beer joint was only 50% filled we didn’t need bullhorns to chit chat between chomps anymore.
  • No line for the bathroom – How aggravating were the old days when you stood anxiously bouncing up and down till it was your turn to tinkle? Pretty bad, huh? Without anymore bathroom lines going to the watering hole was a 2 minute breeze without the pee pee dance.
  • Better service – Our server was wonderful, made sure everything was perfect and our glasses never ran dry. Since she wasn’t rushing around waiting on a gazillion people at once I didn’t feel like a Nascar flagger trying to get her attention.
  • Sparkling Clean – With the post Covid sanitation rules the tables and chairs shined. Unlike many times I have sat down at a wet table that had been wiped with what I am sure was a dirty rag. Clean gives the new normal an A+ in my book.

This was the best dinner date I had with my husband in years but there are a few more changes I hope to see. Just a few ideas off the top of my head are reserved seating and order ahead. How cool would it be to walk straight into the restaurant, be seated and served within minutes? My wish is for restaurants to create pre-plan dining experiences like this where I can pay upfront for the meal and have it ready for my reservation time.

But for the moment I’ll take the small win of what we had. A great dinner with fabulous service, spic and span tables with room to move and an easy tip toe to the restroom. Now I am wondering what else will change and how great it can be.

Will I be able to sleep soundly in a hotel without 47 basketball playing teenagers roaming the halls at 2am? On my next airplane ride will I enjoy sitting next to my husband without having to pay extra so we are separated on a half empty plane? And how long will grocery stores keep every check out line open? Social distancing is the new normal. And so far I love it.