The empty, desolate campus students left in March came to life (though masked and socially distanced) as many students flocked back for the start of fall semester. The palpable excitement of habitating the BC Bubble now floats throughout campus, but the obvious need for precaution and safety is intertwined within this enthusiasm. Students need to do what we can to keep campus open. This entails practicing responsible and safe behavior on and off campus as well as respecting the neighboring communities. With large gatherings at a halt but the desire for social interactions still persisting, the next go-to for many friends is to grab dinner. While supporting local restaurants and employees is vital to the success of neighboring communities, we as consumers need to ensure this activity is approached mindfully. The safety of the campus and restaurant employees should be prioritized, and many principles learned from quarantine can be used to do just this.
Restaurants, having missed large revenues from the height of quarantine, have reopened, focusing on outdoor seating to ensure social distancing takes place. While tables are spaced apart and the fresh air erases the atmosphere of worry regarding the pandemic, the CDC recommends wearing a mask when not eating to ensure droplets are not spread. This acts as a method of protection to those dining around you and serving you. As customers arrive in masks, ensuring that all servers also wear their masks enables both parties to protect themselves and each other. With social distancing practices, eating outdoors, and wearing a mask when not eating, we can dine while avoiding infecting ourselves and others.
As of June 8, Phase 2 of the reopening plan of Massachesetts began. The anticipation for business and activities out of the house finally relieved, as outdoor patrons began enjoying their favorite take-out meals at sit-down restaurants.
Having experienced the hustle and bustle of a Friday afternoon on Beacon Street before quarantine, returning to what once was the well-trafficked area after the reopening felt ominous. The previously hurried and fast paced passerbys have been replaced with stagnant and socially-distanced patrons situated on curbs, allowing restaurants to serve guests in the crisp, summer air. Dining outside and socially distanced felt odd. The pleasures of dining and being with those I was quarantined with returned, but the feeling of worry and precaution never escaped me. This sense of fear increased in many as indoor dining became available on June 22 in Boston.
Such concerns over the worst case scenario were not a feeling confined to my family unit or to other patrons, as many restaurant owners experienced similar worries regarding the potential outcomes of reopening their indoor seating. “Our decision not to reopen was mainly about staff safety. Everyone is in danger all the time right now, and we didn’t want to put anyone into any excess danger,” Jason Bond, the owner of Bondir in Cambridge, told Eater Boston.
With restaurant workers speaking out about their concerns over the safety of their staff if they reopen in person dining, consumers need to ensure that they are acknowledging the risk employees are placing themselves in to make ends meet. Aside from following the COVID-19 precautions previously mentioned, generously tipping as financial support to those who served you is equally important.
Another important facet of the reopening of restaurants in Boston is the narrative regarding food accessibility. Attention has shifted towards discussing eating in restaurants when many members of the Boston community are unable to afford or access this luxury. With unemployment skyrocketing and vulnerable communities continuing to face limited access to income and aid, many are left without financial and physical access to groceries. This is where mutual aids come into play.
While mutual aids are a topic that are tossed around and shared via social media, the great impact of mutual aids derives from their grassroots focus on helping groups of people who are overlooked by government programs. “Mutual aid creates a symbiotic relationship, where all people offer material goods or assistance to one another. Mutual aid organizing is volunteer-run, transparent, and driven by the needs articulated by community members,” notes a VICE article detailing the rise of mutual aid organizations during COVID-19.
Although existent before the pandemic, mutual aids have rapidly expanded and grown to accommodate and assist those suffering during isolation. By relying on social media to spread awareness of the mutual aid and Google Docs to sign up to volunteer or receive aid, mutual aid funds thrived on the interconnectedness the Internet provided the world throughout the worst of the pandemic. This reliance on strangers and volunteers found on the Internet contrasts previous models of providing and obtaining aid, demonstrating how quickly organizers adapted to the influx in need for new forms of assistance. In a time that feels so socially isolated, communities are quickly forming to provide a sturdy social network of aid.
Not only are mutual aid funds being utilized to make groceries and essential items accessible, mutual funds in Boston were started to act as a “virtual tip jar” for restaurant employees who were laid off or unable to work during the pandemic. Although these were formed to assist with those who could not work during the height of the Massacheusettes coronavirus closures, restaurants are not able to fill to capacity, and staff are not receiving the tips they are accustomed to.
Although all mutual aids are not directly aimed at assisting and tipping restaurant workers, this example of financially supporting the community truly encapsulates the importance of being an intentional consumer. Rather than merely taking the services and food you pay for in what can seem to be a disconnected transaction, consumers should acknowledge that restaurant workers rely on the tips and purchases from customers.
With approximately 16,000 restaurants permanently closed due to repercussions from the pandemic, the need to support small, locally-owned restaurants becomes more apparent than ever before. Consumers need to support restaurants that have served their communities to ensure that local, small, and BIPOC-owned restaurants can survive.
The more we return to normal habits of consumption, the more these habits need to be altered to better serve the current economy. When dining with your family units, always ensure precautions are being taken to protect yourself and others. Local restaurants in the community should be prioritized when it comes to spending your hard-earned money.
Finding and exploring new local restaurants can be difficult during the pandemic, but lucky for you many lists of local restaurants have been curated to help out.
Black owned restaurants in Boston: https://www.boston.com/food/restaurants/2020/06/02/black-owned-restaurants-in-boston
Allston restaurants open: