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I ate at Olive Garden, Applebee’s, and Chili’s to see how going to casual dining restaurants has changed during the pandemic

Chilis pandemic reviewLinh Ta/Business Insider

COVID-19 shutdown restaurant dining rooms starting in March.
Now that states are reopening, I wondered what it would be like to eat at familiar chain restaurants.
I went out to eat at Applebee’s, Olive Garden, and Chili’s.
While everything looked the same at the surface, there were precautions and reminders everywhere that we’re still in the middle of a pandemic.
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There is a comfortable consistency that comes with dining out at popular chain restaurants. The neon lights, massive menus, and endless ’80s playlist make them predictable, no matter where you’re dining in the country.

Then COVID-19 thrashed into our lives, upending our expectations of what our lives would be like and ruining our plans for margaritas and nachos with friends.

Now in summer, states have steadily been opening back up and allowing dining rooms to reopen. In Iowa where I’m from, restaurants have been allowed to serve customers inside since May and there are no occupancy restrictions. That means it’s up to local owners and companies to decide whether they want to pack people in or keep customers socially distanced.

Even though my state reopened weeks ago, I’ve hesitated to jump back into the restaurant scene, despite my infatuation with popcorn shrimp and smothered wings.

Will I be safe eating inside? Should I wear a face mask? What are the bathrooms like?

But I’ve also yearned for the return of dining out, sitting at a table and chatting with my friends.

In this new era of unpredictability, I decided to don a face mask and venture out into the world of dining circa COVID-19 at three of America’s most recognizable chain restaurants.

Here’s how my experiences went.

The first restaurant I went to was Olive Garden.
Linh Ta/Business Insider
Before you’re allowed inside, Olive Garden requires hungry customers to add themselves to their local restaurant’s waitlist first. I called ahead and told them I was planning on coming in around 8 p.m., but diners can also join the list online.
Linh Ta/Business Insider

The website states that joining the waitlist leads to less “host interaction” and it encouraged customers to wait in their cars until a text message indicated their table was ready.

When I arrived at the restaurant, most people stood outside instead of waiting in their cars. Every other bench was wrapped in bright yellow “caution” tape to encourage social distancing.
Linh Ta/Business Insider
See the rest of the story at Business Insider

See Also:

Saks Fifth Avenue just reopened the doors to its New York City flagship, but we saw few shoppers despite enhanced safety precautions, including ultraviolet light handrail sanitizing7 fast-food items that face an uncertain future due to the coronavirus pandemicUS shoppers are spending more outside the grocery store, but there’s still a long road to recovery in the retail sector

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