Subject to occupancy percentages, mandated social distancing and heightened hygienic procedures, Indiana restaurants will be permitted to reopen tomorrow (May 11), with Kentucky’s to follow on May 22

What happens next is anyone’s guess. Now we know how to suspend the old normal as it pertains to food and dining, and next comes the crash course in (slowly) evolving the new.

Following are six links to a range of forecasts, with a brief snippet pulled from each. In the end, expert opinion varies as to the details, though there is agreement about the single most important factor for the future of the hospitality sector as a whole.

It’s you.

What do you, as an individual, think about it?  

A Guide to Staying Safe as States Reopen, by Joe Pinsker (The Atlantic)

Can I eat at a restaurant? Can I go shopping? Can I hug my friends again? Experts weigh in.

This new (reopening) phase, though, doesn’t necessarily mean that the ongoing risks of the pandemic have materially changed. “If your favorite watering hole reopens, that’s not a guarantee that it’s safe to go have a beer with your friend,” Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at UC Irvine, told me. “That’s one possible reason that it’s reopening, but another is that the pressures to reopen businesses have been so enormous.” He said that if the U.S. were solely concerned with containing the virus, “reopening shouldn’t even be in the conversation” yet.

That said, many (but not all) parts of the country have at least gotten out of an “acute emergency phase” for the time being, according to Elizabeth Carlton, a professor at the Colorado School of Public Health. She now sees “a shift towards trying to come up with strategies that allow people to resume some parts of their old lives that are the least risky … We need to find a way to slow the spread of the virus that also allows us to maintain our mental and financial health.” The safest thing to do, if you can manage it, is still to stay at home, but now is the time when—unlike the past six weeks or so—people in some parts of the country can consider cautiously reintroducing some nonessential activities into their life after weighing the risks to themselves and others.

Ed Rudisell On The Restaurant Industry’s Bleak Outlook, by Suzanne Krowiak (Indianapolis Monthly)

Is Ed Rudisell a pragmatist or the Grim Reaper? Given the COVID-induced crisis in the hospitality industry, that may be a distinction without much difference.

The facts on the ground are unambiguous—some restaurants have already closed. More will almost certainly follow. Ed Rudisell, an owner or partner in Black Market, Rook, Siam Square, and The Inferno Room, has been characteristically blunt on social media lately, forecasting what’s in store for a restaurant industry without massive government intervention. We spoke to him about how he’s managing day-to-day operations, what restaurants really need to survive, and why he thinks it’s important for colleagues and customers to trade platitudes for hard truths.

A bartender on how the service industry will change, by Dante Wheat (LEO Weekly)

The service industry, as we know it, is changing before our very eyes. Fine dining restaurants have become quick-service takeout joints, bars are acting as bodegas and bartenders have become online spirits instructors. It’s wild how quickly a business model can change in moments of crisis. We’d like to believe that once we get past COVID-19 (Big Rona), everything will be back how it was, but I’m here to tell you: it won’t. The entire structure of the hospitality industry is going through a forced remodel, and if you aren’t careful, you’ll be discarded with the scraps.

21 Ways Restaurants Could Change Forever, According to Chefs, by Regan Stephens (Food and Wine)

We spoke with dozens of chefs and restaurant owners about what comes next. Thoughts ranged from the practical—disposable menus, added cleaning protocols, increased takeout options—to bigger picture revisions, like enhanced safety nets for restaurant workers and broader acceptance of no-tipping policies. Jon Nodler, chef and co-owner of Cadence, Food & Wine’s Best New Restaurant of 2019, is among those who hopes the crisis sparks an industry-wide change.

“We can’t keep running this traditional model, the food and labor costs, and the pressure put on people,” he says. “I hope that restaurant owners, and everyone working in restaurants, is using this as a time to evaluate how to come back to it.”

How Does Craft Beer Survive COVID-19?, by Kyle Swartz (Beverage Dynamics)

The craft beer industry was growing steadily before COVID-19. Thanks to the rise of taprooms — allowing breweries of all sizes to generate consistent revenue — the category had found more room to expand. For many of these businesses, distribution mattered less than the customers who walked into breweries and bought pints.

What a difference a few months makes. The on-premise industry has shut down under the threat of the novel coronavirus. Suddenly the financial lifeblood of many breweries — their taprooms — has morphed into deadweight.

How can the industry survive? And what does the craft beer category look like on the other side of the pandemic?

Bar Rescue Host Jon Taffer Shares Plans for DC Taverns and “Resetting” the Bar Industry, by Anna Spiegel (Washingtonian)

The great thing about a bar [without a kitchen] is you can open with one employee. You don’t necessarily have to have servers. You could put one person behind a bar and open for business. A bar has an advantage over a restaurant because it can open for much less money each day.

On the other hand, look at what happened in Texas, where they created a 25 percent occupancy rule. I never thought we’d lose 75 percent occupancy. Strangers are not going to stand six feet apart and talk to each other. The whole premise of interaction becomes challenged. That whole premise of packing a bar—that can’t be now. Imagine a local bar you like going to. You like going for a lot of reasons, but many are the way it feels—the music, the energy, the fact it’s busy. Now you walk into that bar and it’s 50 to 25 percent the amount of people it used to be, the energy and the feeling is going to change greatly. I see a path for restaurants that’s clearer to me than the path I see for bars.

Photo credit: Planet Retro blog