RICHMOND — On the last night of a weeklong visit with my brother in South Carolina, he took me to a nice restaurant, where we sat practically shoulder to shoulder with dozens of other diners, talking and laughing and eating. We enjoyed a gourmet meal. It was March 13, 2020.
Fast-forward. On March 27, 2021, daughter and I — both vaccinated — gleefully went to Flo’s, a diner-style, perfect breakfast place on Route 20 in Pittsfield. In between the two Marches, no restaurant dining, inside or out. You’d have thought we had won the lottery.
Flo’s isn’t fancy, but the menu goes everywhere, from all kinds of omelets (including vegetarian) and breakfast sandwiches to several kinds of French toast, depending on what you want for toppings, and a choice of breads, including challah. In addition, the coffee was delicious. It was extra for real maple syrup, worth paying to avoid the invented variety.
It was interesting to see, for the first time, how a small place deals with COVID-19 capacity rules. Every other booth was roped off with sparkling garland in pink and gold roping, as were the numerous chairs at the counter. All the patrons were wearing masks except when they needed their mouths. You had to wonder how a tiny restaurant made even tinier can keep its head above water. It’s not a location for outside tables, which have helped many restaurants.
We admittedly dawdled over coffee and accepted heaters from the attentive waitress more than once. And suddenly the available seats were full, and we reluctantly surrendered our spaces to new customers. Going out for breakfast has always been a favorite in this family, but not exactly a thrill. This time, we were crazy delighted.
Nationwide, the restaurant industry reportedly ended 2020 with sales $240 billion down from the National Restaurant Association’s forecast for the year. More than 100,000 eating and drinking places were closed temporarily or for good by the end of 2020, with millions of jobs lost.
Restaurants responded creatively to the crisis, although nothing could financially replace indoor dining and bar service. Sidewalks became dining places, with officials bending the rules to help out. Takeout ballooned, including drinks to go. Curbside pickup and delivery kept some people working. People bought gift cards for future use, just to keep their favorite places afloat. Nothing, however, replaced an open dining room and a crowded bar.
Getting rid of the virus, at least until it comes around again, surely will bring more excitements in the future. The mundane, like grocery or wine shopping in person, will make us feel like kids at a store that sells only candy. Spring this year brings more than the bloom of daffodils and the planting of onions. The downside will be taking note of which shops and restaurants are gone, victims of the virus, plus the nearly 300 people Berkshire County lost.
But, we’ll win the fight, if the reluctant get their arms shot and the “freedom fighters” put their masks on and the spring breakers start to absorb the fact that a spring sunburn is not a good exchange for putting a grandmother on a ventilator. In the meantime, at least for the moment, vaccinated people can enjoy a little long-lost fun.