Eating out is what most people used to enjoy doing, whether it be for special occasions or you just don’t feel like cooking. But when the Covid-19 pandemic hit Guam in March, Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, in order to keep the virus from spreading, ordered the temporary shutdown of many businesses, including restaurants, whose operations were confined to take-out orders.
Now, sit-down restaurants are slowly opening their doors, amid the “new normal” shaped by safety guidelines including social distancing, hand sanitizers by the entrance, and checking for body temperatures before being seated and away from other dine-in customers.
“I'm excited; I've been excited,” Bert Duarte said, a photographer and guest relations. “I've been dining since we've been given permission to dine out and into restaurants.”
“I do appreciate the opportunity to dine out again,” said Michael G. Meno, a high school principal. “It is a good escape from home and routines.”
But a lot has changed since restaurants were allowed to resume dine services.
“Not all experiences have been good mainly, because of the bad service and not the food,” Duarte said. “The main difference between now and before the pandemic is the crowd eating out. I miss looking at the many people in the restaurant. Otherwise, it's all the same. Though I have noticed some prices go up slightly.”
“I respect the new procedures to ensure hygiene and safety,” Meno said. “It was always a concern for me prior to the pandemic—I would always review the establishment’s public health rating. I recommend that the agency consider giving an additional or supplemental rating reflecting the CDC and PCOR requirements.”
McDonald’s outlets in Tamuning and on Middle Road in Saipan reopened their dining areas on June 10. “As of Saturday June 20, all our McDonald's restaurants on Guam and Saipan are now open for dine-in with the exception of Guam's Tumon location which will remain closed for now,” said Divina Evaristo, marketing manager at McDonald’s.
While customers are slowly getting a bit comfortable with dining in, Evaristo said she does not expect the restaurant industry to go back to normal any time soon. “We must remain consistent and vigilant and use all the resources to keep safety top of mind,” she said. “The health and safety of our people and guests to our restaurants remain the highest priority so we must change some behaviors and protocols.”
Joe Ayuyu Jr. of McDonald’s Guam noted that during the beginning of the pandemic, food vendors were among the essential businesses so were allowed to open. “Drive-thru and curbside pick-up allowed our guests to safely enjoy our menu and take it home with them,” Ayuyu Jr. said. “Guests also were comforted with employees wearing face masks for everyone's safety. After we reopened dine-in, guests were impressed with our safety practices and really welcomed that."
For Duarte and Meno, the pre-coronavirus dining out was something to look forward to, enjoying a nice warm meal without all of the hassles of cooking and cleaning up after your mess. “It was the convenience, and I enjoyed the service and not having to cook,” Meno added.
For Duarte, it was always about the company of family and/or friends. It was a way to chit chat about current events, hobbies and planning for the next trip.
The circumstances compel diners to follow the protocols to ensure everyone’s safety.
“I follow the safety requirements as dictated by the restaurant,” Meno added. “I also make sure I wash my hands or use sanitizer before and after I make any contact. “I appreciated the attention given to social distancing and sanitizing,” Meno added.
It made him rethink his practices prior to the pandemic. He is more conscious of the steps necessary to limit contamination.
For Duarte, “We wear our facemasks and I carry an alcohol-based sanitizer with me.”
He also assumes that the tables have been wiped down. He’s not afraid, but he is very cautious thus he takes precautions. “When in doubt, stay home,” he said.
This Covid-19 experience had taught Duarte and Meno some valuable lessons about the world and the changes it has brought. For Meno, it taught him to be more patient with delays, when he would want a faster service for his orders to be brought out. “I appreciated the attention given to social distancing and sanitizing, and it made me rethink my practices prior to the pandemic,” Meno added.
For Duarte, “To never take our freedom of movement for granted.”
Duarte also added that is a great thing to be able to go anywhere, to be more aware of his surroundings whether to keep an eye out for danger or for his health. It has also taught him to treasure family and friends while they are still around. “Who knows when we’ll see each other again and to the realization that this internet thing is much more important for my sanity than I thought.”
Following local health department mandates, McDonald's has implemented the following changes.
Required the use of face masks and gloves for employees
Wellness checks and temperature screenings of employees before every shift, daily
Reduced available seating to comply with maximum 50% local occupancy mandate
Requiring social distancing for employees and guests, decals and signage posted to help guide them; including restrooms max. occupancy.
Hand washing for employees every 60 minutes or as soon as needed.
Contactless operations using trays to present and receive payment and food.
Higher frequency of cleaning and sanitizing of all high touch areas
Self-serve beverage bar is closed at this time. Refills can be requested from employee.
Installed hand sanitizer dispensers at main entrance / exit.
Protective panels were installed at drive thru windows and front counter service areas.
Overnight deep cleaning of all surfaces being done.
One-way customer flow helps to avoid congestion and maintain 6 ft. distancing, with directional arrows to guide them