Navigating the New Normal: An (Un)Guided Look at Post-COVID Venues


Venues across the country are struggling with adapting to the ever-changing CDC guidelines and how to please all types of guests.

As vaccinations roll out and people are becoming more social, we can’t forget what we all experienced this last year, and many aren’t yet willing to throw caution to the wind. People are at all different points in their comfort zones of participating in public activities such as dining out or attending events, and venues want to make sure they aren’t alienating anyone.

According to an AGC Partners restaurant report released in May 2021, it takes the average person 66 days to form new habits. COVID restrictions have lasted well over 365 days at the time this was written. It will take people quite some time to undo the changes that have been made during the pandemic.

As states start lifting indoor mask mandates, there are mixed feelings from restaurant owners and operators. According to an Eater Boston article, “Anthony Caldwell, the chef and owner of 50 Kitchen in Dorchester, says he’s nervous about the lifting of the mask mandate because it allows people who aren’t vaccinated to behave in a way that he doesn’t think is safe.”

This echoes the sentiment many COVID-cautious people are feeling even if they are fully vaccinated and ready to partake in day-to-day activities and pleasures such as dining out and attending events.

On the flip side, hospitality workers are also feeling fatigued by the endless changes and being the rule enforcers. It’s been challenging for them to keep guests compliant with all the requirements, and now that all the rules are being lifted to just go back to pre-COVID ways may seem too sudden.

The COVID-cautious section of venues may just be the 2021 version of the non-smoking section.

Patty McCartney, Director of Events at the Foundry Kitchen and Tavern, shared how the Sandy Hook, Conn., venue is handling their customers’ needs.

The Foundry opened for indoor dining when the state of Connecticut rolled back COVID restrictions in March 2021. Since then, the venue has kept its customers’ concerns in mind, designating spaces for those who wish to continue to follow social distancing and those who feel comfortable dining without restrictions.

Find out what McCartney had to say about the issue in our Q&A:

1. What are the measures you are taking in the physical space to accommodate for the differences in comfort levels of your guests?

We are fully open in our tavern and outdoor patio, meaning at capacity. We are social distancing tables in our dining room and loft space for those who may be still apprehensive about coming out to eat.

2. Are you doing anything special when talking to clients about events or with your event packages to highlight post-vaccinated comfort levels?

I always ask the client what level of comfort they need. For example, we (staff) wear masks at events; however, we do not require the guests at events to do so unless requested by the client.

3. Are you asking guests if they are vaccinated?

No, we are not; that is a private question.

4. Do you have any idea about how long you will keep these practices in place?

Through summer and then we’ll re-evaluate.

5. Any other thoughts regarding COVID and non-COVID sections or ways to split up spaces?

Our customers love that we have options for social distancing still available, so that seems to make everyone happy.

Follow the guidelines but practice flexibility

Despite the widespread availability of the COVID vaccines in the United States and the increased capacity for restaurants and venues, there is a segment of diners that isn’t ready to give up their masks and safety practices. The rest of 2021 will be a time of transition for the hospitality industry and there’s no road map for what’s ahead. Your venue’s best bet is to take a cue from your customers and be flexible as they navigate their new comfort zones.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of Seated magazine.