Are we stigmatising diners and drinkers in the post-lockdown life?

This blogpost was co-written by Mia’s Musings.

Before Coronavirus, eating out was a favourite pastime of mine. During the last few months, we’ve had to swap eating out for Deliveroo. Now we are told to eat out, support our businesses with our appetites and wallets. This has ignited a passionate discussion of money versus lives.

So, what are the rules and why are people nervous about eating out?

The government has created an “Eat Out to Help Out” scheme to encourage people to visit restaurants and cafes. The scheme was announced recently, offering diners the chance to eat out at some of their favourite restaurants, on selected days, for 50% of the price. The rules regarding social distancing are hazy but at least 1 to 2 metres distance, and staff must wear PPE. Outdoor eating is encouraged which raises the question of smoking outdoors. Other gathering spots such as bowling, or wedding receptions have been delayed for another 2 weeks due to a rise in local cases.

Why are the government pushing this? Understandably they don’t want the economy crashing. Both established chains and independent businesses are feeling the pinch and it’s impossible to go a week without hearing about redundancies.

Is this really going to help the economy when the government has vowed to reimburse participating businesses for all the money they lose out on? Or is it just a ploy to get people spending again? There are concerns amongst many in the industry that the scheme will serve to prompt people to leave their homes before they are ready, and despite constant and incessant warnings of a second wave. But, for most businesses who are happy to be open and (at least) breaking even again, it’s come as the warm, bright white light at the end of the tunnel. Many of us are just happy to be able to socialise with our friends again, and would do so regardless of a price reduction, so it begs the question, what good will it really do? Either way, it’s welcome news for those of us who aren’t so nervous about venturing out. Perhaps those who are nervous about eating out are actually more scared of the judgement with which this action comes. 

Quite simply put, we don’t want a second spike of coronavirus. With the relaxed rules and forgetfulness of the public, these are prime conditions for a second spike to arise. Hospitals will be pushed to their already stretched limits, the vulnerable members of society will once again be at risk, the economy could take another beating. With a push for al fresco dining, questions have been raised about smoking. Those working in hospitality are concerned about safety measures, personal protection equipment is worn by staff, but enforcing distance is trickier. Most restaurants/cafes have reduced indoor capacity to ensure there’s enough space between tables. But is this enough to keep people safe?

There are still serious concerns amongst many citizens that even these safety measures come far too soon. Many believe we should still be locked down in our homes, limited to our once-daily, state-sanctioned walk. There is an undeniable stigma which has been attached to those who are appearing to frivolously flout the relaxed guidelines by going out endlessly, mixing in big groups and not socially distancing. It is a feeling that has arisen from fear, and one that will most likely remain for a long time, now that people are more aware about the transmission rates of this deadly virus. Awareness is fine…it’s good, in fact. However, with this fear has developed a growing sense of self-righteousness in many of us, who look down on others who do as we do. There’s often a knee-jerk reaction to seeing posts on Instagram of people mingling with friends from multiple households. While it is hardly surprising, I think if we are to ever move forward and regain some sense of normality, we must accept that everyone else’s “normal” looks very different to our own. As long as we are happy with our own actions, and we feel confident that our doings align with our moral conscience, then now is the time to dispel these feelings of angst towards others. 

Everyone will have a mixed opinion about going out. Some will call it selfish; others see it as a boost to their wellbeing, and for some it’s a welcome break from the usual 4 walls of home. As of yet, dining out isn’t illegal. So maybe instead of judging people going out, maybe direct that emotion into something more productive.

Poor mental health has been a vehement side effect of lockdown measures that were imposed on us just a few months ago, with calls to 999 reaching peak levels for people reporting suicidal thoughts, anxiety and depression. Staying at home for some people is more dangerous to their well-being than the thought of leaving the home and contracting coronavirus. 

For many, the last few months have been stressful and an abrupt change of lifestyle. I’m an extroverted person and love nothing more than a good natter over a tasty meal out. So, I’m very happy to safely go out and support restaurants/cafes (bonus points if they’re independent). For those who live alone, the last few months could be even more difficult and the thought of being around people could be their source of human interaction.

Local business need customers. Without customers families risk losing their source of income and communities lose a beloved institution. If a safe collection or dining out allows local businesses to stay open, surely that’s a good thing?

My co-author, Mia, had the following thoughts about the lockdown easing, “I spent a day working in my university job as a waitress last week (helping a friend out!) I had to wear a mask and gloves with tables being spaced apart and shields up. From a personal perspective, the restaurant is independent. It’s a source of income and employment for those working there, and should it close, it would be a tragedy. As a customer, I don’t mind wearing a mask or standing 2 feet away from people if it means I’m supporting worthy companies.

Personally speaking, I don’t see the harm of safely going about your business. People need something to look forward to, hospitality generates a lot of jobs and without demand, a lot more redundancies will take place.”

As almost everyone who’s close to me will know, I quit my job in hospitality just before the restaurants reopened, and I have to say, it was not for fear of contracting the virus at work, rather because I just no longer wanted to work in the industry. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed seeing my friends again, and I know my friends in the industry are somewhat happy to be working again. I recently found myself a new job where I am able to work from home, so now I can pick and choose when I decide to leave my home to see my friends and family. Giving myself the autonomy to make these decisions was an important part of my moving forward with my own sense of normality. 

Personally, I feel that the current guidelines (i.e. masks in shops and on public transport, social distancing etc) are enough to make people feel safe, whilst still being able to continue with their day-to-day life. The most important thing about the measures is autonomy: you can choose to stay in, or go out. As long as we are all taking the necessary precautions to ensure we aren’t endangering others, I see nothing wrong with being able to enjoy life as much as can.

Mia writes about all kinds of lifestyle content, if you want to see more, click here!

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