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COVID-19 and our dining experience with restaurant expert Bruce Newbury (video)

BRUCE NEWBURY

I sat down with Bruce Newbury (virtually) to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic with a focus on dining.
Newbury produces a radio show on dining, “Dining Out,” that is broadcast around New England, and he produces a podcast called “Wine and Food Dude.” When visiting Vermont for work from his home in Rhode Island, he makes the Waybury Inn in East Middlebury his home base.
He features the Waybury in his radio show, where he discusses food with the owners, chefs, and staff who work at the inn. The pandemic has affected the dining and lodging industries to an enormous extent, and Newbury and I talked about changes restaurants and inns alike have faced with a focus on the Waybury Inn.
Listen to our conversation click on the video below.
We began by discussing the Waybury Inn and the importance of local residents patronizing the inn during the pandemic. Newbury recounts a fall morning in October when the Waybury Inn hosted a breakfast as a way to say thank you to its customers who had been dining in and taking out food throughout this unusual summer. He describes how people from the community “wanted to come to show their appreciation for how the Inn had opened, remained opened, and had been a link to the old world” before the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, the event demonstrated the strength of community and for the Waybury Inn a sense of gratefulness from those in the county.
The breakfast the Waybury Inn hosted in October came as a result of months of hard work to stay open once the inn was allowed to be open. The Waybury, like other dining and lodging establishments, had earlier closed its doors under orders from the state of Vermont. Newbury’s communication with the inn and the contents of his radio show were moved online. He remembers setting up conference calls with the management and chefs at the Waybury in order to talk about how they could attract business once takeout became an option, all the while “trying to stay upbeat” during a difficult time. Newbury also describes how people began to take on different roles at the inn than they had previously.

As time passed and restaurants were allowed to reopen for dining, the Waybury Inn, like other dining establishments, started serving food again, adapting its menu to fit both a takeout and dine-in group of patrons. The loosening of restrictions also meant the welcoming back of visitors from out of state, including Newbury, and with that a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Newbury emphasizes the challenge when it came to those guidelines, where restaurants and inns wanted to serve people, but at the same time had to adhere to the rules.
Particularly with many restaurants moving back to a takeout-only service as a result of rising cases late this fall, it is difficult to know when it will once again be common to dine in. When we do return to restaurants, sanitation will be a top priority. Newbury believes that “the expectation of the guest (regarding cleanliness) has been heightened,” and he doesn’t think it will go back down. He also explains that it is difficult to determine whether or not buffets and other self-serve food options will return after the pandemic.
The COVID-19 vaccine may help diners return to restaurants sooner than without a vaccine. However, the impact of the vaccine on restaurants is still not completely understood.
Our conversation triggered a flurry of questions, such as, can restaurant owners require employees to get the vaccine? Can restaurants choose to serve people only if they have been vaccinated? Will people want to return to dine in even with a vaccination? Although there is no clear answer to these questions, Newbury does believe that the vaccine may be a “hard sell” for some people. For this reason, the takeout business that restaurants have been forced into due to the pandemic may persist in the coming years.
As we continue through this pandemic and beyond, what is most important is supporting these local inns and restaurants, especially now with no outdoor dining and limited seating indoors. Newbury explains that restaurants are our food supply and that “we need our restaurants, and our restaurants need us.” He suggests that buying gift cards and merchandise are a great way to support local restaurants and inns if you don’t go to dine in. For those who prefer takeout, I asked Newbury which food travels best from the restaurant kitchen to your dining room table. His answer? A burger, just make sure you grill the bun too.
Watch the video here and find out more.

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