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Words that shaped the way we ate in 2020

                                Sourdough bread was a pandemic cooking project for many home bakers.
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Sourdough bread was a pandemic cooking project for many home bakers.

There was a lot to swallow in 2020. The pandemic has changed the way we work, learn and play, and certainly the way we eat and drink. Here, in no particular order, is a recap of some terms that defined the way we dined when 6 feet became the measurement that mattered.

Comfort food: Mac and cheese, fried chicken, casseroles, tacos, pizza, pasta, soup — you name it, we ate it and called it comfort. The pantry snack shelf offered plenty of comfort, too.

Quarantine 15: The extra pounds some of us gained as a result of staying hunkered down at home, stress-eating, day-drinking, ordering takeout and doomscrolling in our pajamas.

Curbside: The safest way to transfer a pickup order from restaurant to customer. The most efficient operations keep things socially distanced and contactless, letting you pay in advance and simply pop the trunk upon arrival — no need to exit the car.

Online ordering: Something every restaurant wished it had set up by the time COVID-19 arrived.

Reduced or limited capacity: In many cities, restaurants could reopen for on-premises dining only with limited seating based on square footage, and with parties at least 6 feet from one another.

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Contactless menus: Once a thing primarily among internet cafes, contactless menus have replaced physical menus at many restaurants. They feature quick response (or QR) codes that customers scan with a smartphone. It takes them to an online digital menu, where they can view food and beverage options.

COVID surcharge: Some restaurants around the country tacked this onto bills to help pay for personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and even increased food prices.

COVID protocols: These included temperature checks and the collecting of contact information from diners, just in case.

Temporarily closed: Whether as a notice slapped on a restaurant’s front door or posted on its social media feed, the term surfaced with alarming regularity after a national emergency was declared on March 14. After restaurants began reopening in late spring, the term cropped up again, with positive COVID-19 cases among employees prompting some restaurants to close voluntarily for a limited time to sanitize.

GoFundMe: Caught off guard by the swift arrival of the pandemic and spring lockdowns, countless restaurant operators launched fundraising campaigns, primarily to support displaced employees. More recently, the popular crowdfunding platform has been back in the news, as some restaurants appealed to their communities to help keep them from closing for good.

Family meal: A restaurant term for the pre-service staff meal took on new meaning with the rise of takeout. Harried parents, working at home while dealing with kids learning remotely, needed help with dinner. Restaurants responded with takeout trays of mains, sides and desserts, all to be reheated at home. The meal packs served entire households, rather than individuals.

Sourdough bread: A popular baking project among some aspirational home cooks (the rest of us stuck to banana bread) — and a possible cause of the Quarantine 15.

Plexiglass: The functional interior decor item of the year. Plenty of dining rooms now have plexiglass partitions between booths, some more professional-looking than others. Plexiglass also can be seen protecting those at the cash registers, reception stands and even buffet lines.

Outdoor dining: In 2020, the best seat in the house wasn’t a secluded corner booth. Prime seating was anywhere outside, even in a parking lot — the farther from other people, the better.

Pivot: The verb of the year for restaurateurs, forced to make changes repeatedly in response to every round of state and local guidelines, public health advisories and new findings about how the virus is spread. Operators weighed the sentiments of staff and guests as they determined whether, when and how to reopen safely. With revenue from in-person dining slashed, they also scrambled to bring takeout programs into the digital age and built new revenue streams, from online marketplaces to ghost kitchens to virtual culinary events. It’s the preferred course of action when the alternative is “to perish.”

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