This week’s COVID Catch-up: The pandemic has altered eating and dining habits


Food service is different now. Kindness and patience go a long way.

Carrie Steinweg (photo provided)

COVID Catch-up is a weekly column featuring Lansing Journal journalist Carrie Steinweg’s personal experience with COVID-19 and things she learned from others who shared their experiences. Subscribe today to make sure you don’t miss any COVID Catch-ups. Last week’s column is available here.

By Carrie Steinweg

LANSING, Ill. (June 24, 2021) – As the state has opened back up and things seem on the road back to some sense of normalcy, one topic I wanted to cover before I wrap up this series of articles is dining out. The restaurant industry has been one of the most adversely-affected during this pandemic period. And the effects haven’t been the same across the board.

All restaurants not affected the same

Dining shutdowns and restrictions since March 2020 have varied from state to state, county to county, town to town, and even from restaurant to restaurant. A place that had been operating as a pizza carry-out wasn’t impacted the same as a fine-dining restaurant and banquet hall that didn’t do carry-out. Some areas of the state had repeated shutdowns and then there were limits on seating.

As we dine out now, we need to adjust expectations and take into consideration all that has changed for these businesses over the past year or so.


Every eating establishment had to adjust the way they do business. For those that offered indoor dining prior to the pandemic, COVID shutdowns cut into business tremendously. Some came up with ways to utilize any outdoor space around their eatery to offer outdoor dining. Those restaurants who hadn’t really done carry-out in the past now had to tweak their menus and figure out how to make their food portable and re-heatable. Ghost kitchens became a thing — where there was no physical restaurant, but a kitchen where food was prepared and then delivered. Alcohol to-go was introduced, and meal kits that you made at home became popular.


The past 15 months have been a whirlwind for anyone who works in the restaurant industry. Some experienced layoffs, or a cut in hours, or their place of employment couldn’t survive the pandemic and closed. Now restaurants are facing employee shortages, and I’ve seen several that have had to reduce hours, limit their menu, or close temporarily because of lack of help. Job duties may have changed a lot, too, to necessitate curbside pick-ups or to take on extra tasks due to lower staffing.

Be kind

As the pandemic lingers on and everyone seems to be just over it, patience is wearing thin. Realistically, in a lot of cases, quality and service have suffered in the restaurant industry. Some places were able to adjust and barely miss a beat. At other places, a dining experience is not at the level was pre-COVID. Inexperienced staff may not be producing the quality of food that the restaurant once did, service may be slower and employees less attentive as they are taking on more duties. It doesn’t mean they aren’t working hard; it is just an incredibly unusual time, and they’re doing the best they can considering the circumstances. So have patience, tip extra if you can, think about how hard it has been on restaurant employees and owners — as it has been on us all — and be kind.