Updated: Aug 19, 2020
I did not feel ready to dine out. But, my husband is equal parts cute and persuasive. So I agreed. First I scoped out local restaurants - how far apart the tables are, whether the tables are on sidewalks that get lots of foot traffic, whether staff wear masks and gloves, whether diners stay seated. After popping my head into Suraya - twice - I agreed to give it a go, and I’m glad I did.
I chose my timing carefully - a Monday night, early, when there were lots of time slots available - so it wouldn’t be too crowded for my taste.
The entrance was marked with socially distant Xs, although there wasn’t a line when we arrived. We were greeted by a friendly masked hostess who had a big bottle of hand sanitizer, a thermometer (97.6!) and a sign reminding people to wear masks. She gave us disposable menus and escorted us through the big, beautiful garden to a table quite distant from our neighbors and separated from them by bushes, trees and large potted plants.
The folks at Suraya have clearly given a lot of thought to how to minimize interaction - and had an excellent protocol in place. The rules were taped to the table along with a QR code that could be used for ordering and paying. We had never done this before but it was simple. It works with your phone’s camera. Tip #1: Since you enter your credit card when you order, you may not think of it, but over-tip. The staff deserves it!
Our delightful and enthusiastic server, Karelia, was attentive (but not too) and managed to find a happy medium between being too close and being too distant. Tip #2: Consider wearing your mask when you’re ordering (at restaurants where you don’t order on your phone), when drinks/food is being delivered or cleared, and whenever you’re not actively eating or drinking. It’s not that hard and it protects your server.
I ordered the Pink Dyzi, a refreshing pink vodka and grapefruit cocktail, to calm my nerves since I’m one of those people who gives non-mask wearers the stink eye. (See my blog Mask Jawn for masks by Philadelphia attractions for some awesome choices.) That and the well-thought-out safety procedures, maximized the experience for me.
We devoured Labneh with za’atar, tomatoes, cucumber, olives and mint; Charred Long Hots, Slow Roasted Lamb with a cucumber and pomegranate salad; and Grilled Branzino with a spicy sauce of red peppers, tomatoes, walnuts and pine nuts, spices and turmeric rice. The procedures were new, but the food was as delicious and beautiful, as always.
We skipped dessert, as we wanted to give the restaurant a chance to turn our table. Tip #3: This is important - with 50% capacity restaurants need to turn tables to survive. For more on this, see my blog posts, 10 Tips to Help Restaurants Survive and 10 MORE Tips to Help Restaurants Survive.
All-in-all, it was a wonderful experience and I’m glad I dipped my toe in. The only question is, where should we go next?
by Irene Levy Baker, author, 100 Things To Do In Philadelphia and Unique Eats & Eateries of Philadelphia. Both books are full of tips. For even more tips, visit www.100ThingsToDoInPhiladelphia.com. Planning a staycation? Go to the website for signed copies of books. For free shipping, use promo code TheCityPulse.
Click here for more blog postings by Irene Levy Baker including two posts with tips for how to help restaurants survive, photos of masks by Philadelphia attractions and more.