The small, simple, see-through containers on the table symbolized the big shift: Salt and pepper shakers.
They'd hardly been visible much of the past year, the result of COVID-19 and countless efforts to reduce shared, public touch points – ones that would require sanitizing, again and again ... and again.
Instead, salt and pepper were usually delivered upon request at restaurants I'd dined in, often in individual packets.
I can't even recall the restaurant where I noticed them recently because my spouse and I have been to a few places. But the shakers were just one example of the shift – getting closer to what we once knew as normal – as cautions introduced early last year to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus have been broadly lifted.
One more sign: buffets where diners can serve themselves, rather than telling a gloved employee what they want on their plate.
I'm not sure this is the best of signs. I first noticed it on a late spring out-of-town trip riverboat dinner cruise and then within the past two weeks at one Fort Wayne eatery.
Admittedly, I haven't historically avoided buffets – despite the potential germs or other unhealthy transmissions from countless people using the same utensils to help themselves from salad, food and dessert bars. But I kind of liked the cautionary COVID-19 approach: Yes, it's still buffet with numerous options, but we'll serve you.
I've often cringed when I see unsupervised children at a buffet, knowing they might have just rubbed or picked their nose before grabbing a communal restaurant spoon to scoop something onto their plate. OK, I'll give the kiddies a break. It's conceivable an adult who should know better might do the same.
I did notice at the one local restaurant – after filling my salad plate – a few sporadically placed boxes of plastic gloves at the buffet that diners could pull from. I'm sure other diners didn't immediately notice the gloves either: I saw no one using them.
It seems like patrons could have been handed or at least alerted to them prior to them getting their first empty plate to begin the meal process. A restaurant with a buffet option could also proactively place individual packets of gloves on tables where diners would see them from the start.
Even better: Maybe we could just learn from the shifts that COVID-19 required and go back to restaurant employees serving those making their way through buffet lines.
I realize restaurants long ago figured out how to cover costs or even profit from buffets. But I'm guessing food waste would be less if people asked an employee to put their selections on their plate. I think most people can attest to the cliché that our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs.
Just a little food for thought.