Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Eating Out in a Restaurant in the Age of Covid-19

 

The city where I am staying is slowly coming back to life. On Friday, some small retail stores that have been tightly shuttered had their doors open, so I went shopping. When I walked into the first store, a clothing boutique with a chalked sign proclaiming “Made in the USA” out front, I promised the lady hovering behind the cash register that I’d keep my “social distance.” With an accent that only exists where people are grown on sweet tea and biscuits, she loudly proclaimed, “You’re the only one here, baby girl! Get on in! I’m thrilled to see you!”

Let me tell you. I didn’t need anything. I didn’t really want anything. I normally hate shopping, but this was gloriously fun. By the time I was done, my American Express was at the point of melting. But I justified the bags in my mind because my husband and I had decided to go out on a date and get dinner at a restaurant since restaurants now have permission to open their dining rooms under certain guidelines.

The truth is we couldn’t find an open restaurant on Friday night, though the curbside “hosts” we’ve been frequenting told us they are getting ready, feeling out the waters. Pickings were still slim on Saturday night, but we scored some reservations at a high-end establishment built for special occasions. I got dolled up in a new dress I’d bought, and off we went.

Now, while I have heard people recommend people wear masks when going out to dinner, how does that even work I wonder, we were not wearing masks. The entire staff had their faces covered though, more than half with bandanas per the Southwestern cuisine we were about to be eating.

The host who looked like a bandit took us to the end of the bar where we were required to put our names, phone numbers, emails, blood type, number of children, health histories, and time of last known cough on a sheet of paper. (Okay, okay. I josh. We wrote down our names, phone numbers, and emails.) Then the host took our temperatures and noted these as well. (That part is true.)

Without fevers, we were shown upstairs to a table where everyone dining was fairly spaced out. It looked like furniture had been removed to accomplish the required distancing. This is actually great for me, by the way, because I have long hated New York City style spacing in which one can hear every word in someone else’s conversation. Plus I’m not an idiot. I’ll argue all day about aerosol particles and the efficacy of masks, but I completely accept the sound logic behind the current attention to separation.

Anyway, our gloved waiter gave us our menus and tried, bless his heart, to explain the specials from behind the cloth that covered his mouth before he finally stepped away from the table and pulled his mask beneath his chin. “I’m sorry folks. I just can’t talk in this. But I’ll stand way over here if that’s okay with you.”

That was certainly okay with us. If it wasn’t, I guess we could have read the menu and had a different experience.

Eventually, we learned this particular fellow had not qualified for unemployment, so he was extra thrilled to be back at work. This was obviously not his first rodeo as a waiter, but he said he had been surviving on odd construction jobs for most of the shutdown. This particular restaurant has multiple floors, for which he also expressed gratitude. While plans to create a Speakeasy on top were now on hold, the capacity-ceilings for patrons as imposed on each restaurant are determined by floors, so it will be easier for this particular place to have enough tables to stay alive, as long as people still go out.

At some point, he let drop that he thought the masks and gloves everyone working there had to wear were just costumes in a strange kind of theater, “but we’re following every regulation.”

By the way, the regulation book passed out by the city government is over fifty pages long. I know because one of the store owners showed it to me during my shopping extravaganza.

No matter.

We ordered drinks. We got multiple courses. We counted the empty tables. We nodded at the other hungry souls happily enjoying their own meals. We understood why everything on the menu wasn’t available. We lingered and talked over the candlelight. We left a healthy tip.

What did I take away from this experience?

I suppose if someone is frightened of catching the virus, he or she should stay home and eat cake. That can even be a very rational decision per one’s risk group. But I hope that more people who are not in high-risk categories start going out and living again. We can’t revive the economy on our own, after all, and we need restaurants to survive for the long term because I am an abysmally bad cook.

To put it in perspective, these adventures took place in a county with a population of almost a half-million people. There have been less than 250 known cases of Covid-19 with five deaths from the virus since the beginning of the shutdown.

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  1. Full Size Tabby Member

    Anyway, our gloved waiter gave us our menus and tried, bless his heart, to explain the specials from behind the cloth that covered his mouth before he finally stepped away from the table and pulled his mask beneath his chin. “I’m sorry folks. I just can’t talk in this. But I’ll stand way over here, if that’s okay with you.” 

    . . . 

    At some point, he let drop that he thought the masks and gloves everyone working there had to wear were just costumes in a strange kind of theater, “but we’re following every regulation.”

    As anxious as Mrs. Tabby and I are to get out to a restaurant, we don’t think we’d enjoy being served by masked staff, so we are delaying.

    We don’t do “high end” dining, but it seems that in our small town (west of Fort Worth) only a few of the restaurants have reopened under the current restrictive rules. Most of the restaurants are relatively small in space, so operating at 25% capacity is probably still not economically viable. I was amused to see one of the larger diners in town that also has a large parking lot repurposed a substantial portion of the parking lot for “patio dining,” a feature they had not previously provided, and that increased the diner’s capacity so that re-opening became economically worthwhile. 

    We have learned however that at least two previously very popular local restaurants are not going to re-open at all. 

    • #1
    • May 5, 2020, at 6:20 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    Anyway, our gloved waiter gave us our menus and tried, bless his heart, to explain the specials from behind the cloth that covered his mouth before he finally stepped away from the table and pulled his mask beneath his chin. “I’m sorry folks. I just can’t talk in this. But I’ll stand way over here, if that’s okay with you.”

    . . .

    At some point, he let drop that he thought the masks and gloves everyone working there had to wear were just costumes in a strange kind of theater, “but we’re following every regulation.”

    As anxious as Mrs. Tabby and I are to get out to a restaurant, we don’t think we’d enjoy being served by masked staff, so we are delaying.

    We don’t do “high end” dining, but it seems that in our small town (west of Fort Worth) only a few of the restaurants have reopened under the current restrictive rules. Most of the restaurants are relatively small in space, so operating at 25% capacity is probably still not economically viable. I was amused to see one of the larger diners in town that also has a large parking lot repurposed a substantial portion of the parking lot for “patio dining,” a feature they had not previously provided, and that increased the diner’s capacity so that re-opening became economically worthwhile.

    We have learned however that at least two previously very popular local restaurants are not going to re-open at all.

    I am hoping that this all fades–the thermometers and masks–as each “stage” becomes a thing of the past. But I absolutely believe that a lot of small restaurants will never reopen. Their margins are too tight, and many would have simply been pushed off the precipice per the amount of time they were shut down completely.

    We don’t do lots of fine dining, but we felt this was a special occasion. They were open. My husband and I debated which sorts of restaurants will more easily weather the storm: fine dining or high turnover. Each has different disadvantages. All I really know is that I’m very grateful I don’t own a restaurant or bar.

    • #2
    • May 5, 2020, at 6:40 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. Stad Thatcher

    My wife and I rarely eat out because we’re both good cooks and enjoy cooking as kind of a therapy or stress relief. However, we do want to have the ability to eat out when we feel like it, so we want all restrictions lifted. So far, our governor (SC) has only “allowed” the reopening of restaurants with outdoor seating, which not all in our area have.

    I’m still not eating out until I get a haircut from my barber . . .

    • #3
    • May 5, 2020, at 6:54 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  4. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    Stad (View Comment):

    My wife and I rarely eat out because we’re both good cooks and enjoy cooking as kind of a therapy or stress relief. However, we do want to have the ability to eat out when we feel like it, so we want all restrictions lifted. So far, our governor (SC) has only “allowed” the reopening of restaurants with outdoor seating, which not all in our area have.

    I’m still not eating out until I get a haircut from my barber . . .

    Salons are more tightly restricted here than restaurants in stage one, but some of them have opened as well. I think they aren’t supposed to do so quite yet, but I’m not telling on anyone!!! ;)

    While we were looking for a restaurant to go to, someone told us that one of the hairdressers was auctioning off slots, and a slot’s cost had already gotten up to $140. I can’t speak to this from personal experience though. I’ve heard about salons second hand only.

    Since I’ve posted articles about being on a plane and eating out, if I get my hair cut, I’ll write about that, too.

    • #4
    • May 5, 2020, at 7:00 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. EODmom Coolidge

    Stad (View Comment):

    My wife and I rarely eat out because we’re both good cooks and enjoy cooking as kind of a therapy or stress relief. However, we do want to have the ability to eat out when we feel like it, so we want all restrictions lifted. So far, our governor (SC) has only “allowed” the reopening of restaurants with outdoor seating, which not all in our area have.

    I’m still not eating out until I get a haircut from my barber . . .

    Now that you mention it, I might not eat out until my husband gets a haircut. I asked my lovely hair lady to come to the house, and she did, and I paid her for the two haircuts I’ve missed and then some and got her the cupcakes her family loves from our local superlative bakery. I’m a good cook, but I’m pretty tired of my own cooking and it’s all starting to taste the same. The local take out – with the exception of chowda and pizza – doesn’t travel well. It could be awhile here in NH as outdoor dining has some downsides – like predictability. It’s been a really wet spring and It looks to stay that way. How will a restaurant deal with sporadic summer showers – send people (Staff and customers) home and throw out prepped food? Seems they aren’t thinking this thing through. The sidewalk bistros people are romanticizing about are typically extensions of their indoor capacity. Not in lieu of. It’s much like our Gov limiting hair salon openings to cut (not clear if you can wash) and color only (I guess you can wash after). No foils, no blow dry……. Tough luck blonds. 

    • #5
    • May 5, 2020, at 7:23 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  6. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    EODmom (View Comment):
    It’s much like our Gov limiting hair salon openings to cut (not clear if you can wash) and color only (I guess you can wash after). No foils, no blow dry……. Tough luck blonds. 

    That is… impossible for me to follow. IF you get a cut and color, you’ve already been exposed–both ways–to whatever virus is sitting in the chair. No blow dry? They think the virus will be blown around or something? Strong virus.

    • #6
    • May 5, 2020, at 7:47 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. EODmom Coolidge

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    EODmom (View Comment):
    It’s much like our Gov limiting hair salon openings to cut (not clear if you can wash) and color only (I guess you can wash after). No foils, no blow dry……. Tough luck blonds.

    That is… impossible for me to follow. IF you get a cut and color, you’ve already been exposed–both ways–to whatever virus is sitting in the chair. No blow dry? They think the virus will be blown around or something? Strong virus.

    It’s a mystery – as in many things in this state. As in other areas, the experience of the disease is found substantially in residential nursing facilities. And fatalities 95%+ in the very old and frail. So 100% of the population- 90% of which is healthy – have lost their economy. Except the gubmint employees. Call me cynical. The Gov’s parents live in my neighborhood. I’m afraid to see them now. (Everyone walks a lot in the ordinary case even now.) Don’t know what I’d say to them other than Hello. 

    • #7
    • May 5, 2020, at 8:17 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  8. Gary Robbins Reagan

    I will be buying furniture this week. It is important to keep the economy moving.

    Restaurants are not open for dining-in yet. But I would love eat outside and there has been a move to allow restaurants to be able to put tables outside. When they do, I will be on it immediately.

    • #8
    • May 5, 2020, at 8:21 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  9. EODmom Coolidge

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    I will be buying furniture this week. It is important to keep the economy moving.

    Restaurants are not open for dining-in yet. But I would love eat outside and there has been a move to allow restaurants to be able to put tables outside. When they do, I will be on it immediately.

    Good on you – it will be a nice lunch or dinner. Watch the sun go down and enjoy the view. You won’t have to worry about rain on your parade. 

    • #9
    • May 5, 2020, at 8:24 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  10. Tex929rr Coolidge

    We have had three meals out since the ban was lifted Friday, at two different local places. All three were breakfast. At each place the condiments were all in throw away containers. At one place the staff wore masks, but not at the other. One place (with masks) they served coffee in styrofoam cups and gave picnic packs for cutlery; at the other place it was the usual mugs, plates and silverware. The two counties where the restaurants are have had 16 and 5 cases, respectively, with no hospitalizations or deaths.

    • #10
    • May 5, 2020, at 10:18 AM PDT
    • 4 likes
  11. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    Tex929rr (View Comment):

    We have had three meals out since the ban was lifted Friday, at two different local places. All three were breakfast. At each place the condiments were all in throw away containers. At one place the staff wore masks, but not at the other. One place (with masks) they served coffee in styrofoam cups and gave picnic packs for cutlery; at the other place it was the usual mugs, plates and silverware. The two counties where the restaurants are have had 16 and 5 cases, respectively, with no hospitalizations or deaths.

    We will go out again this weekend. I will be curious to see if the restaurants here are not uniform. The stores certainly were not. Some staff wore masks. Some did not. None minded me. (I don’t wear one.) 

    • #11
    • May 5, 2020, at 10:37 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  12. Skyler Coolidge

    “Baby girl?” Weird.

    • #12
    • May 7, 2020, at 8:35 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  13. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    Skyler (View Comment):

    “Baby girl?” Weird.

    Funny. It didn’t feel weird to me. Though I am definitely not a baby girl!!! I’m on the opposite side of the hill. But… she’d slid further down it than me. :)

    • #13
    • May 7, 2020, at 8:39 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  14. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    I went out to eat in Tennessee, but I am definitely keeping my eye on Austin, Texas as that’s where I currently own my home. I thought this story on the local channel there about restaurants starting to open up was interesting, though the trepidation expressed about “joining in” will stop the recovery of the economy if it is too widely shared. (I don’t fault people for going slowly, even though I’m not.)

    I found the Austin mayor’s thoughts especially interesting as he said the penalty for not wearing a mask is that you are going to make other people die. That’s the penalty. (Local law enforcement cannot impose a fine or jail time per the intercession of the state.)

    I watched him in another interview say that he would not be going out any time soon, and he extended the “lock down” order for Austin, though that’s obviously now just a request for compliance. Outside of city run institutions like pools and libraries, he can’t continue to interfere with commerce.

    That can be seen as good or bad per your perspective.

    Personally, anything this particular mayor likes makes me want to do the opposite, but that’s my own irrational reaction to him after years of living under his rule. ;)

    I also watched interviews with restaurant owners in Austin who said 25% capacity does not sustain their businesses. Without curbside takeout, it’s not possible to make that model work for any period of time. Still, it was nice to see some people leaving their houses and just having a margarita.

    I do, actually, love that city.

    • #14
    • May 7, 2020, at 9:46 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  15. jeannebodine, Verbose Bon Viva… Member

    Lois, I just want to say how much I’ve enjoyed your posts and comments during this ordeal. Your writing is excellent, you have fresh ways of looking at things that that stimulate interesting conversations, you’re diplomatic and you have a great sense of humor. We’re lucky to have you on Ricochet! (And I brought you this shiny new apple 🍎).

    • #15
    • May 7, 2020, at 5:17 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  16. Randy Webster Member

    If you drive down the road a bit to Blount County, most of the restaurants are open.

    • #16
    • May 7, 2020, at 5:26 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  17. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    jeannebodine, Verbose Bon Viva… (View Comment):

    Lois, I just want to say how much I’ve enjoyed your posts and comments during this ordeal. Your writing is excellent, you have fresh ways of looking at things that that stimulate interesting conversations, you’re diplomatic and you have a great sense of humor. We’re lucky to have you on Ricochet! (And I brought you this shiny new apple 🍎).

    I’m blushing. But I love apples! And I’m a teacher! Soooo… squuueeeeeee!!!!! :)

    Seriously. 

    Thank you.

    • #17
    • May 7, 2020, at 5:58 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  18. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    If you drive down the road a bit to Blount County, most of the restaurants are open.

    That’s Maryville? Are they good? What’s your favorite?

    • #18
    • May 7, 2020, at 5:59 PM PDT
    • Like
  19. Gary Robbins Reagan

    EODmom (View Comment):

    Gary Robbins (View Comment):

    I will be buying furniture this week. It is important to keep the economy moving.

    Restaurants are not open for dining-in yet. But I would love eat outside and there has been a move to allow restaurants to be able to put tables outside. When they do, I will be on it immediately.

    Good on you – it will be a nice lunch or dinner. Watch the sun go down and enjoy the view. You won’t have to worry about rain on your parade.

    I ordered 4 bookcases at $258 each and paid for them. They will be delivered in 2-3 weeks.

    • #19
    • May 7, 2020, at 6:42 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  20. Randy Webster Member

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    Randy Webster (View Comment):

    If you drive down the road a bit to Blount County, most of the restaurants are open.

    That’s Maryville? Are they good? What’s your favorite?

    There’s an Aubrey’s, Puleo’s, and a Calhoun’s there. And a lot of national chain restaurants like Texas Road House and O’Charley’s.

    • #20
    • May 7, 2020, at 8:39 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  21. Tex929rr Coolidge

    This is my fourth visit to my favorite breakfast place. No masks in sight.

    • #21
    • May 8, 2020, at 6:19 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. Full Size Tabby Member

    Returning toward normalcy.

    Inaugural restaurant dining experience Monday lunch at a diner in town. Tables spaced, single use menus, and the strangest sight – empty table surfaces – no table accessories (salt and pepper shakers, sugar and other sweetener packages, coffee creamer, ketchup and mustard bottles). Server brought single use packages of such things just after she brought us our food. Oh, and servers were not wearing masks, which I was happy to see – my server is a real human being and not a bandit :-) . Delicious food. Flavor possibly enhance by two months’ absence. Just a yummy freshly grilled burger and fresh hot fries.

    Returned to the same diner this morning (Tuesday) to test out resuming our normal Tuesday morning breakfast with a group of us retired guys from church. Only 3 of the normal 12 guys wanted to come. Our server (we have the same server every week) said that if more than 6 of us come we could sit no more than 6 at a table. The three of us who came had a great long conversation among ourselves and with our server. She said the diner is still not filling to even its reduced capacity except on Saturday and Sunday mornings. 

    I found it very refreshing to enjoy some normal meals outside the house and to talk with the diner server we had not seen in two months.

    • #22
    • May 12, 2020, at 10:50 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  23. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):
    Only 3 of the normal 12 guys wanted to come.

    I totally don’t understand this, but I say good for you for living!!! I’m glad you liked your meal.

    • #23
    • May 12, 2020, at 11:03 AM PDT
    • Like
  24. Skyler Coolidge

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    Returning toward normalcy.

    Inaugural restaurant dining experience Monday lunch at a diner in town. Tables spaced, single use menus, and the strangest sight – empty table surfaces – no table accessories (salt and pepper shakers, sugar and other sweetener packages, coffee creamer, ketchup and mustard bottles). Server brought single use packages of such things just after she brought us our food. Oh, and servers were not wearing masks, which I was happy to see – my server is a real human being and not a bandit :-) . Delicious food. Flavor possibly enhance by two months’ absence. Just a yummy freshly grilled burger and fresh hot fries.

    Returned to the same diner this morning (Tuesday) to test out resuming our normal Tuesday morning breakfast with a group of us retired guys from church. Only 3 of the normal 12 guys wanted to come. Our server (we have the same server every week) said that if more than 6 of us come we could sit no more than 6 at a table. The three of us who came had a great long conversation among ourselves and with our server. She said the diner is still not filling to even its reduced capacity except on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

    I found it very refreshing to enjoy some normal meals outside the house and to talk with the diner server we had not seen in two months.

    How can a restaurant stay in business without filling it up?

    • #24
    • May 12, 2020, at 4:33 PM PDT
    • Like
  25. Randy Webster Member

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    Returning toward normalcy.

    Inaugural restaurant dining experience Monday lunch at a diner in town. Tables spaced, single use menus, and the strangest sight – empty table surfaces – no table accessories (salt and pepper shakers, sugar and other sweetener packages, coffee creamer, ketchup and mustard bottles). Server brought single use packages of such things just after she brought us our food. Oh, and servers were not wearing masks, which I was happy to see – my server is a real human being and not a bandit :-) . Delicious food. Flavor possibly enhance by two months’ absence. Just a yummy freshly grilled burger and fresh hot fries.

    Returned to the same diner this morning (Tuesday) to test out resuming our normal Tuesday morning breakfast with a group of us retired guys from church. Only 3 of the normal 12 guys wanted to come. Our server (we have the same server every week) said that if more than 6 of us come we could sit no more than 6 at a table. The three of us who came had a great long conversation among ourselves and with our server. She said the diner is still not filling to even its reduced capacity except on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

    I found it very refreshing to enjoy some normal meals outside the house and to talk with the diner server we had not seen in two months.

    How can a restaurant stay in business without filling it up?

    Short answer: they can’t.

    • #25
    • May 12, 2020, at 4:37 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  26. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    Skyler (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    Returning toward normalcy.

    Inaugural restaurant dining experience Monday lunch at a diner in town. Tables spaced, single use menus, and the strangest sight – empty table surfaces – no table accessories (salt and pepper shakers, sugar and other sweetener packages, coffee creamer, ketchup and mustard bottles). Server brought single use packages of such things just after she brought us our food. Oh, and servers were not wearing masks, which I was happy to see – my server is a real human being and not a bandit :-) . Delicious food. Flavor possibly enhance by two months’ absence. Just a yummy freshly grilled burger and fresh hot fries.

    Returned to the same diner this morning (Tuesday) to test out resuming our normal Tuesday morning breakfast with a group of us retired guys from church. Only 3 of the normal 12 guys wanted to come. Our server (we have the same server every week) said that if more than 6 of us come we could sit no more than 6 at a table. The three of us who came had a great long conversation among ourselves and with our server. She said the diner is still not filling to even its reduced capacity except on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

    I found it very refreshing to enjoy some normal meals outside the house and to talk with the diner server we had not seen in two months.

    How can a restaurant stay in business without filling it up?

    That’s the thing. If people don’t start engaging with the economy, the economy will collapse. These places don’t have enough cash to outlast fear. That is not to say that people don’t need to be smart about what they are doing or cautious about what they are doing, but I am getting very frustrated with my fellow Americans who really do seem to prefer to stay inside their homes, whether or not they are in a “hot zone.”

    The store that I mentioned at the top of my article? Already closed again now except on weekends. Why? There isn’t enough business to keep it open. It’s not that people aren’t buying things. There are a lot of reasons for this, I suppose, but I think the biggest one is fear. 

    My fear of what is happening to small businesses massively overrides my fear of Covid at this point… at least for my particular age/health demographic. And I don’t want Congress to authorize another ten ga-zillion dollars to try and “rescue” people because I know the government cannot sustain that spending, and people will stay inside forever if they think they can. I want people to be smart but to live. I want society to save itself.

    • #26
    • May 13, 2020, at 4:34 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  27. Full Size Tabby Member

    For probably the first time in my life I was pleased to encounter a wait at my favorite diner this morning. It means more people are willing to get out. My regular server said they have had more customers each day. They still can’t succeed long-term on the legally mandated reduced capacity, but it is encouraging to see that customer demand is returning. 

    • #27
    • May 15, 2020, at 8:27 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  28. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    For probably the first time in my life I was pleased to encounter a wait at my favorite diner this morning. It means more people are willing to get out. My regular server said they have had more customers each day. They still can’t succeed long-term on the legally mandated reduced capacity, but it is encouraging to see that customer demand is returning.

    That is good news indeed. Excellent!!!!

    • #28
    • May 15, 2020, at 9:53 AM PDT
    • 1 like