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Alternative Dining Ideas

Nobody wants to be worried about health and safety while dining out on vacation.

Traditional restaurants aren’t always optimized for social distancing. But creative travel planners can find innovative ways to deliver memorable meal experiences while also making guests feel safe.

For the sake of cost and expedience, many group meals have traditionally involved buffets or family-style service. But in light of ongoing health and safety concerns, travel planners should avoid these dining styles for a while and think outside the box when feeding travelers. Outdoor venues, tables six feet apart and cleanliness protocols all work together to allow groups to focus on the food rather than their health.

Groups can feel at ease when dining together knowing that these organizations have done the safety prep work for them.

Food Trucks:

Roaming Hunger Nationwide

Known for delivering meals on the go, food trucks stand out as a meal option ready-made for the pandemic. While other restaurants have struggled with creating a safe way to deliver their meals, food truck staff have transitioned with little effort.

“It’s actually easy to socially distance at a food truck, especially if you find the right location,” said Ross Resnick, founder and CEO of Roaming Hunger. “Many food trucks offer order-ahead options. Taking advantage of these can help you skip lines altogether, minimizing your contact with strangers.”

Roaming Hunger is a food truck booking service that allows people to find food trucks in real time or book them for upcoming events. Founded in 2009, the company’s website and app display a map showing the current locations of more than 18,000 food trucks in cities and areas across the United States and Canada.

With the app, group leaders can use a food truck’s schedule, menu and contact information to plan a food truck meal. Beaches and other large outdoor areas with places for groups to spread out make great locations for food truck meals. Group leaders should check to make sure the food truck’s staff follow current health guidelines by wearing gloves and masks.

“Food trucks in general are actually among the safest places to eat, even during normal circumstances,” said Resnick. “Food truck kitchens are subject to the health department’s highest safety standards. Plus, the food is served from a self-contained kitchen accessible to only a small staff.”

Farm Restaurants:

Beach Plum Farm

Cape May, New Jersey

In the evenings, the setting sun casts incredible colors across the sky in Cape May, New Jersey. Guests can take in the spectacle unencumbered at Beach Plum Farm. Groups dining there enjoy the fresh farm-to-table cuisine while observing social distancing guidelines.

“We don’t serve anything here that we don’t grow,” said Krystina Kennedy, general manager of Beach Plum Farm. “In the summer, we have two seafood dinners a week. We work with local seafood providers that are in tune with our mission statement.”

Groups can opt for a family-style meal that can serve individual families or one that can serve everyone, depending on preference. The restaurant spaces tables apart and ensures that servers wear masks and gloves.

Though the restaurant opts for outdoor dining whenever possible, the site can also set up an enormous overhead tent with open sides. The restaurant plans to set up a screen in the fall that can hold in heat for chillier nights but still allow for plenty of air flow.

“Since we are not able to have cocktail hour the way we normally do, the cocktail hour food is already on the table when the guests arrive,” said Kennedy. “We traditionally serve everybody at one table. With everyone now sitting in individual groups, we have live music to fill in the sound gaps and enhance the experience.”

The farm offers guided tours, gardening classes and hiking trails for those looking to make a day out of the experience. Overnight guests are also welcome at on-site cottages that groups of up to 40 people can rent.

Dining While Glamping:

Resort at Paws Up

Greenough, Montana

If achieving a socially distant group trip sounds overwhelming, group leaders can simply drop guests off at the Resort at Paws Up in Greenough, Montana, for a socially distant adventure that combines wilderness with high-end comfort.

“We are a 37,000-acre ranch,” said Alison Lewis, media relations manager for the Resort at Paws Up. “That is twice the size of Manhattan. Then, if we are completely booked, there are only 200 to 250 people maximum. Those numbers give you an idea of the wide-open spaces we have. Because of that, we haven’t really had to pivot from what we’ve normally done for guests.”

The resort had already offered outdoor dining in remote locations. Groups looking to isolate together could book a meal in the middle of a field of flowers or other scenic area.

Accommodations are spread out as well, with stand-alone homes and glamping sites. Guests who want to isolate can order in-home barbecue or brick-oven pizzas or have traditional restaurant meals delivered. The resort also offers seven on-site restaurants, each with social distancing measures in place.

With few exceptions, the resort has been able to continue offering its numerous activities, among them hiking, cycling, horseback riding and fly-fishing.

“When I go, I never leave the property,” said Lewis. “It’s a place you do not leave because there is so much to do. People are doing activities at different times of day, but it never feels crowded.”

In 2021, the resort will open another resort on the property, called Green O. The luxury getaway will offer intimate retreats in contemporary homes that are designed to blend into the natural surroundings.

Spacious Breweries:

Lansing Brewing Company

Lansing, Michigan

A spacious interior and innovative ideas helped make the Lansing Brewing Company in Lansing, Michigan, a stand-out among dining options. Pre-COVID, the brewery had event space for seated groups of up to 250 guests in one room, with additional indoor and outdoor seating. Though running at half capacity now, the brewery can still accommodate sizable groups.

“We are really blessed because we have a large venue,” said Jeremy McKowen, general manager of the Lansing Brewing Company. “We can take advantage of that by really utilizing our space. To make people feel at ease, we made sure people had direct paths to the bathroom. We have also tried to take out all touch points. We have exceeded both the CDC and county health department guidelines in sanitation and cleaning.”

The brewery has hired one staff member just for sanitation. Every 30 minutes, the staff member sanitizes the bathroom. Twice a day, the bathrooms are shut down for a deep cleaning.

The staff also let guests know the brewery’s procedures so they know when to take their masks off and when to put them back on. The brewery also lets guests call before coming in, to find out when their table is ready. A host escorts newcomers to their table so that no one is wandering through the brewery.

Groups can learn how the brewery was rebooted after 101 years of closure. The new owners took an original beer recipe from the 1800s and revived it so guests could taste a beer flavor more than 100 years old.

“I love when people who are unfamiliar with the brewery scene get to experience what we have to offer,” said McKowen. “The ambiance here is amazing. It is a huge open-air space with a big fire pit outside. We have games we can provide and sanitize between uses. We are in the heart of the city, with a very community-oriented outlook.”

Luxury Picnic:

Ocean House

Watch Hill, Rhode Island

Groups can walk up to a beachside dinner already laid out and waiting for them at Ocean House in Watch Hill, Rhode Island. The five-star beach hotel caters “luxury picnics” for visitors looking to dine without worry about wait staff, other guests or other interruptions.

“Now more than ever, travelers are seeking safety, trust, flexibility and the sense of escape,” said Laurie Hobbs, group director, public relations and marketing, for the Ocean House. “Groups are going to be looking months ahead to make plans. They have to feel comfortable and safe in their decisions.”

The historic hotel has developed upscale picnics that follow current health guidelines to create that sense of ease. Groups can request these meals on one of the property’s Instagram-worthy lawns, beach areas or other private locations.

The hotel’s restaurant provides table spacing, hand sanitizers on the table, single-use menus and servers wearing masks and gloves.

For leisure time, the hotel offers wine, culinary and art classes with social distancing measures. Groups can also book a croquet clinic or screen a movie. For example, after a wine class, the group can sip their beverages while watching a wine-related movie in the hotel’s screening room.

Because the hotel is part of the Ocean House Management group, guests can also access activities at other nearby hotels owned by the company, including the nature-themed excursions at Weekapaug Inn, only seven miles away.

“We feel we have put protocols in place so people can feel trust in us and still have a good time,” said Hobbs. “We don’t want to take away from the experiences. We want to come up with creative options so travelers can still have an enjoyable getaway.”