Some central Ohioans wary of going back to restaurants as dine-in customers

Patrick Cooley
ThisWeek group
Many central Ohioans say they are wary of dining in restaurants and instead will stick to carryout orders during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

Fewer than half of Ohio's restaurants are expected to make a profit this year as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic continues to crush the industry, according to Ohio Restaurant Association surveys.

Many customers say they will not return until the pandemic is in the rear-view mirror, even though they might order carryout to help keep their favorite restaurants afloat.

Echoing the attitude of many central Ohioans, Beth Lindsmith, 60, of Bexley said she will not go back to restaurants until a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available.

“I still want to support the restaurants I care about, but I’m not ready to play Russian roulette and take the chance of eating out,” she said.

Most public-health experts do not expect the general public to have access to an effective vaccine until well into 2021.

Those diners who do continue to eat out say they are not doing so as often and tend to seek out establishments that take coronavirus restrictions seriously.

Marcus Diddle, 41, of Westerville said he and his wife used to eat out regularly on weekends, but he has eaten out only once since the pandemic hit Ohio in March.

“It’s been a drastic lifestyle change for us,” Diddle said. “We miss the restaurants we used to go to. We'd become friends with so many people in the service industry, and we miss seeing them.”

Like many central Ohioans, Diddle said, he misses the camaraderie of dining out with friends. He and his wife have stayed in contact with some of the workers they have befriended, but it just isn’t the same, he said.

In the meantime, they’ve become accustomed to takeout.

“It's definitely been an adjustment, something we've adapted to,” Diddle said. “We’ve grown comfortable with going out less and staying in more."

Lindsmith ate out with friends at least once a week before the coronavirus arrived, but she hasn’t gone out to eat since the start of the pandemic, she said. Instead, she orders takeout or delivery from such local restaurants as Northstar Cafe through third-party services like Grubhub and Uber Eats.

“I would rather support local businesses than national chains,” she said. “The chains are going to do fine no matter what.”

Some central Ohioans see ordering takeout as part of an obligation to preserve independent restaurants.

“We just have to be loyal to the restaurants we always go to,” said Mary Myers, 72, of Eastmoor. “My husband is a small-business owner himself, and we know how crucial it is to have small businesses.”

The couple have gotten to know the owners and managers of restaurants they frequent, and Myers said “we miss them terribly.”

But Myers’ husband is on the waiting list for a new kidney, and they worry a COVID-19 diagnosis could derail his chances of obtaining one.

Amanda Mattlin, 48, of Sugar Grove said she recently dined at an Olive Garden. She said the experience wasn’t much different from before the pandemic, save for a smaller menu, mask requirements and a smaller crowd.

“Otherwise, the experience is about the same; you’re just getting it with less noise,” she said. "You can actually have conversation with the people you are having dinner with.”

Mattlin, who recently finished a round of chemotherapy, said she is at high risk of infection and seeks out establishments that abide by coronavirus guidelines.

“If I get this, I’m down for the count,” she said.

She said she is bothered when she sees restaurants that seem filled to capacity, regardless of the state’s coronavirus rules that require tables to be spaced at least 6 feet apart.

Even those who restrict themselves to carryout said proper coronavirus protocols put them at ease.

Matthew Hazzard, 29, of Eastmoor said he hasn’t eaten out since the first case of coronavirus was identified in Ohio, and he seeks out carryout venues that go out of their way to protect patrons.

“I ordered from Resch's Bakery (in east Columbus) for the first time,” he said. "I was very impressed with their protocols. There was somebody at the door, making sure there were only so many people in there at a time, and everyone in there was wearing their masks.”

Some said the pandemic permanently could change their dining habits.

“Prior to COVID, we discussed many times that we really should just stop going out so much,” Diddle said. "This has kind of forced us to make that change. Now that we've made that change, we know we can handle that kind of adjustment.”

pcooley@dispatch.com

@PatrickACooley