A List of Changes You May Notice On Your Next Trip For Dinner and a Beer

A List of Changes You May Notice On Your Next Trip For Dinner and a Beer

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

There are certain things you come to expect when you’ve been hitting the taprooms and brewpubs for several years. Walter and I head out for a day of pub crawling or an evening of dinner and drinks with the expectation that we will meet someone new and someone who we haven’t seen for a while. We’ll tell a bad joke or ten, and probably be the butt of more than one joke.

Our routines are engrained and deep seated, so the post-lockdown process changes have really thrown us for a loop. Many large things have changed for the time being, like serving outside only in Marion County until June 1 (Walter and I don’t like to sit in the heat and sun for long), or planning where we are going well in advance based on who may be packed because of the 50% capacity rules. However, there are many other changes that may be smaller but can have a profound affect on your visit. Here is a list of the things Walter and I have noticed since we’ve been going out again – did we miss anything?

The take home message here is that your servers and brewpubs/breweries are trying hard to navigate these waters – give them a break when things don’t go exactly as you wish or expect.

The masked server. A bit of personal information here – I overthink things. This may not be a surprise to those of you who know me personally. When someone makes a statement, I immediately have three ways I could interpret it. To clue me in on which is correct, I often rely on facial expressions and body language. Unfortunately, this has gotten a lot harder with social distancing and masks. Likewise, I need to see a smile or a gawk in order to interpret how something I have said has gone over – did they realize that I was joking?

Can you tell how a person is thinking/feeling by just looking at them from the eyes up? I can’t. image credit: Rage On

On the other side, servers are hindered by the mask and distance too – so many rely on irony and sarcasm to build rapport with the customer. The mask in particular makes the server/patron relationship much hard to build and maintain. Some brewpubs have even discussed this point in their post-Covid meetings (Field Brewing in Westfield is one) and given advice on how servers can become more direct in their interactions for clarity while at the same time not losing the personal touch that is important, especially for a group of people that basically survive on tips. The eyes may be the window to the soul, but a smile is the key to the tip.

It doesn’t pay to be nice now. Walter is a huge proponent of returning glassware to the bar when done or when ordering another round. Many breweries have limited staff (especially now) and it’s always the best policy to return your glassware to help out – until now. With new cleaning procedures in play for this period of time, leaving empties on the table is really the nicest thing you can do for two reasons. 1) You don’t know their new cleaning routine, so where would you put them on the bar – that could be their carryout section that you just contaminated. And 2) every table is going to be sanitized when the patron leaves, so having empties on the table lets the staff (and newly arrived customers) know that your particular table hasn’t been sanitized yet.

You have to learn everyone’s name again. This might not be a problem for everyone, but I have a terrible memory for names. I wrestle so much with what to say that I almost always gloss over who I am saying it too. I always ask for names, but it’s very unlikely that I will remember them until we have met under the same circumstances several times.

It’s been two and a half months since we have been to some of our favorite places, and now I (not Walter) have to relearn peoples’ names. We had dinner at Blind Owl Brewery last week and the first thing out of my mouth when we sat down was an incorrect name – granted, they were both “J” names. The only redeeming part of this is that five breweries have already opened this year, so with them I have a built in reason not to know anyone’s name there yet.

I’m not a fan of plastic beer cups, but I can live it – for a while. image credit: Bar-I Blog

Plastic is in. Walter and I carry pint glasses in the car for when we drop in at taprooms, etc. that serve from plastic. Most people don’t mind at all that we have our own glasses that we bring for their beers, but that’s harder now because several brewpubs and restaurants are using plastic cups in order increase single use items and reduce cleaning and reuse. It probably makes some people feel better knowing that their cup hasn’t been used before.

This is the tack that Grand Junction Brewing in Westfield is taking. They normally use plastic for people on the patio, but they are using it indoors and out right now. It’s not good or bad, it’s just where we are right now. Walter and I really do prefer to drink our beer out of glass, for both the visual and the taste, but we don’t have a problem with abiding by a plastic mandate by a restaurant for a while. (Note: I swear I saw two guys drinking their beer through straws when served in glass today.)

Not at the rail. It doesn’t matter whether I’m alone, Walter is alone, we’re together, or we’re meeting other people – we like to sit at the rail. Well – that’s not happening now. All the restaurants and brewpubs have the rail closed for now, and I suspect that they’ll be blocked in the taprooms when they open up in a couple of weeks. Bartenders are some of the best folks with which to talk, and the rail is where you meet other beer geeks – but I guess all that is going to have to wait for a few more weeks.

This change in seating also affects the kinds of conversations you can have with people that you meet. In normal times, you’d be at the bar and someone would come up beside you. You’d say hi, introduce yourself, perhaps shake hands, and then maybe have a conversation. Not now – most tables are more than six feet apart at this point, so a greeting and a hand shake now turns into a nod and a smile. Try carrying on a conversation with another table while social distancing is in effect – it’s not happening, especially if you don’t need everyone else in the place following what you are saying.

Charting a path. On a normal Friday evening or Saturday evening when you need to use the facilities at Tappers Arcade Bar in Fountain Square or the Black Acre Brewing Beer Garden, the first thing you do is chart a path of least resistance. The crowd is the determining factor in how long it will take and how far you’ll have to travel to get to the bathrooms.

We’ve gone from finding the fastest way to the bathroom to finding the path where we come close to the fewest people. image credit: WCIV

Nowadays you still look to chart a path to bathroom, but it mostly has to do with how you will navigate around the tables that are occupied. Walking too close to someone is now an issue you have to take into consideration, if not for your own comfort and piece of mind, then for theirs. Some people are now hyperaware of how close other people are, so to make them feel better, others are (sometimes unconsciously) giving people a wider berth.

Plan when you order. Walter and I stopped in at a favorite haunt of ours last week, only to have something feel different. It wasn’t unpleasant, just noticeably different. It took us a few minutes to figure it out, but it turned out to be nothing more than the salt/pepper, sweeteners, silverware, and table tents were missing. Strange how you notice something that small – I guess we really are creatures of habit.

The reason is simple; everything they put at your table will need to be discarded or sanitized once you leave. To cut down on work and waste, it’s just easier to bring it when you need it rather than always having it there. Therefore, the key now is to plan ahead when the order is taken – for both the server and the patron. Are you getting a burger? Ask for the mustard now. It’s not a crucial thing, but the more times you need to send the server for something else, the more times that come into your six foot bubble and the less time they have with other patrons. It’s small, but it can add up.

What’s your sign? Another way places are reducing trips to your table is to use signage. You’ll understand what I mean if you’ve been to one of those Brazilian meat restaurants; they give you the more/not now cards that clue the wandering flesh peddlers in to whether you’re looking to get more food. This practice has been adopted by some brewpubs in order to limit the times you must be approached.

We’re much more likely now to check the weather before going to get a beer, especially in Marion County. image credit: imore.com

I’ve seen the red/green squares being used; red meaning we don’t need anything now, and green meaning please come pay us a visit. It probably does work, but I can’t imagine that servers like it very much. A good portion of sales in the hospitality/service industry is based on suggestion. The more times you can suggest something or ask if they need anything, the more sales you’ll make. Over time, this is going to reduce sales, and therefore tips, considerably.

You need to be a meteorologist. Especially in Marion County right now, but also in the rest of the state (because of reduced indoor capacity), the weather is playing a big role in whether you go out, or whether you enjoy your time when you’re out. Too much sun, too much wind, or too much rain can mess up your attempt to go out and have a good time.

If a place can only serve outdoors, then you better be sure it isn’t going to pour on you when you go out to have a beer. If the sun is out and you get hot – then moving tables means that the staff is going to need to sanitize everything you touched – please don’t move tables willy nilly, the servers won’t say anything, but it really is a pain.

Have I forgotten anything major when talking about how things are different now? Let us know what you are seeing and how it people can help their servers and small businesses during this period. Next time maybe we can talk about some of the changes that could stick around after the reopening. I guess it isn’t surprising that breweries and restaurants have found new revenue streams in the midst of adversity.

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