While dining rooms can reopen Mon. May 11, many are not ready to dine out

We asked six frequent, regular Tucson diners when they anticipate resuming dining out once the option is available, and what’s guiding that decision.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced on Monday May 4 that restaurants could resume dine-in service on Monday, May 11. Whether that means diners will actually head out to dine or not is another question. Diners’ opinions vary regarding whether they’ll go out to eat as soon as it’s deemed legal, or whether Ducey’s date will be too soon for their comfort.

We asked six frequent, regular Tucson diners when they anticipate resuming dining out once the option is available, and what’s guiding that decision. They address mask-wearing, what they envision the future of restaurants to be, and where they want to go first.

Spoiler alert: the overarching consensus is, while these diners are eager to go back out, they’re relying on scientists and health officials – not politicians – to tell them when it’s safe.

Public safety telecommunications supervisor Steven Braun worked as a chef and caterer for 26 years. He has run large and small kitchens in restaurants and resorts, including Tucson’s El Conquistador. Braun went out to eat once or twice a week prior to the pandemic. He said he will let health officials and science guide his decision regarding when to do so again. Some people who are close to him are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus and COVID-19, and he wears a face mask whenever he is in public.

“I will continue to do so until there is a consensus in the health and scientific community that it is safe not to do so,” said Braun.

He added that he hopes that the majority of Tucson’s restaurants are in a financial position to reopen, and while he does occasionally get food delivered to him, he’s excited to visit Bangkok Cafe or Kazoku Sushi once he feels it’s safe.

Coincidentally, Susan Tiss, a senior experience designer and content writer, also said she wants to go to Kazoku Sushi as soon as it’s safe. She dined out about once a week prior to the shutdown, and her return to restaurants depends on a combination of the governor’s decision and whether that aligns with the data she researches herself and gleans from health-care professionals.

“If the governor opens things up but the data that I can find show that cases have not begun to decline (or are even on the rise), even if not right here in my town, then I will likely avoid going out to public places (other than critical things) for some time,” said Tiss.

Tiss also has elderly parents, and is extremely cautious regarding jeopardizing their health. She wears a mask when going out, and said that she might continue to do so “as a social signal to others that I care about them and also as a way to model for others how we should be demonstrating care for each other.”

Some of the practices she anticipates dining establishments implementing once they reopen include keeping some tables empty to maintain physical space, shifting to a more “no-touch” establishment for things like salad bars, communal condiment bars, and even how people pay (encouraging options such as Apple Pay or other no-touch options), informative communication from the restaurant to guest about how the establishment is keeping workstations and guest areas clean and sanitized, and a change in hours of operation, especially if there are not as many employees available or not as many customers coming out.

“I suspect that some of the changes already implemented for to-go (curbside pickup, for example) may continue even after the quarantine is lifted,” she said.

Eva Karene Romero went out once or twice a week prior to the pandemic, and she herself has an underlying condition that heightens her risk of contracting viruses. A bilingual content creator for the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, she anticipates “more investment in accommodating social distancing, including more al fresco, more space between tables, more drive-through, more curbside pickup and more deliveries. In fact, she said she will dine out sooner at locales with sufficient table distancing, and that she might require a vaccine before dining out again.

Romero wears a mask whenever she anticipates being closer than six feet to other people, and will probably continue to do so until a vaccine is developed and we see a dramatically lower case count locally. She’s particularly excited to visit Tito & Pep when her criteria are met.

Director and producer Wayne Vlcan went out about twice a month when restaurants were open. A former restaurant cook, he said he would go out when Gov. Ducey permits it, and he’ll head straight to The Parish, possibly with children or folks who are particularly vulnerable. He’s currently wearing a mask in public and said he will continue to do so.

Leigh Spencer is a University of Arizona program coordinator who has asthma. Her husband has diabetes. Spencer misses the social aspect of dining out, which she did two or three times per week prior to the closure.

“As much as I miss socializing – and OMG, I do! – we’re isolating for a reason and I do not believe we’re safely done yet,” she said.

Spencer said she thinks the governor’s lifting of the quarantine will be based more on finances than health and safety guidelines.

“I will not return at the first possible opportunity, but I will continue to support local businesses with take-out orders for the foreseeable future. Maybe when the daily death toll is steadily down across the whole country, (I’ll go out).”

But for Spencer, that will look different, and won’t be immediate.

“We’d probably opt for more open spaces, like parks or picnic areas. I think it will take a while to bounce back from this and normal will be a new version than what we were used to,” she said.

She misses Pockets for its patio and mixed drinks and she especially looks forward to taking her husband on a date to Kingfisher.

“We went to dinner there lots of years ago with our wedding officiant, to convince him it was a good idea to marry us. (It) seems like a great rekindling date to remind him what I look like in something other than yoga pants and pajamas. Seriously craving their ricotta cheesecake. Maybe I’ll get lucky and they still make that,” she said.

Spencer and her family have been ordering particularly fancy and unusual – for them – take-out choices. She said she no longer just orders delivery of pizza, burgers, burritos, or Chinese.

“Now, it’s literally anything, including fancy frozen drinks packaged for two (thank you, Parish!). I also hope that (guests) who come back, whether take-out or dine-in, remember how hard this period has been on the food industry, she said. “Be nice and tip very well!”

Spencer wears a mask in public and isn’t sure when she’ll be taking it off, considering the shifting rules governing such precautions.

“Going back to normal seems very far away, if not impossible, at this point,” she said.

Bob Trujillo, a writer, researcher, and self-proclaimed bon vivant learned a lot about cleanliness and restaurant operation as a teen when he worked in many positions at the now-defunct small franchise El Pollo Asado.

Prior to the pandemic, Trujillo dined out once or twice a week. In order for him to go back out, he will need a reliable and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.

Trujillo has family members with “underlying conditions that compromise their immune systems, so I have to take more care going out in public.”

He won’t take his immunocompromised family the first time he goes out, which will be to Lucky Wishbone, then Tap + Bottle, and Postino (a brand-new wine bar and eatery which he noted “barely got a chance here!”).

“Even then, I’ll probably stick to daylight hours and places with outdoor spaces. The current governor of Arizona has no further influence over my future decisions to dine out once that becomes permissible,” he added.

Trujillo gets food delivered which, post-quarantine, won’t change too much. In fact, he said he anticipates that eateries will shift to a more delivery- and take-out-forward model in order to accommodate the habits people have developed while sheltering in place. He said he will be “a little more choosy as to what I take out or get delivered, based on what industry minimum protocols develop. I will try to prioritize local businesses, Tucson Originals, and the places featured on Tucson Foodie and other local media, as I have for years, but I fear larger chains and businesses will have a leg up on food safety, so my ordering out will surely be on a case by case basis going forward.”

He says he probably won’t take his mask off until he gets a vaccine. He hopes to see less contact at restaurants, and a de-emphasis on “packing them (customers) in” because social distancing from strangers and heightened awareness of hygiene protocol will become the new normal. He noted that restaurants and bars will, therefore, serve fewer people and therefore prices will need to increase to reflect that. He said he hopes that “most of the restaurants that were making it work before this will be able to make it work during and after.”

Moe Compton is an owner and partner at Nevada Smith’s Steakhouse and Saloon – which is where she said she’ll go immediately upon the governor’s permission.

“I think Ducey will wait and be overly cautious before opening everything back up,” she said. She will take whoever wants to go with her, and said she hopes that customers will wash their hands more frequently. She currently wears a mask where it is required to do so, and said that she will not continue to do so when everything is open unless it is required by law.

Angela Orlando is an anthropologist who owns Wandering Writers Workshops — retreats that take writers around the world. She’s into all things plant- and animal- and food-related, especially when cheese is somehow involved. She throws pottery and eats from her own handmade plates.

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