What It's Like to Date and Dine Out in Phoenix During COVID-19

El Charro Hipster Bar and Cafe on Grand Avenue.
El Charro Hipster Bar and Cafe on Grand Avenue. Lauren Cusimano
Take out, dine-in, or fire up Zoom? It’s a question young singles are grappling with as they navigate a tricky dating scene amid the coronavirus pandemic in metro Phoenix.

Some looking for love during COVID-19 use apps like Bumble and Hinge, then screen dates through video chats prior to linking up in person.

“Have a FaceTime date before meeting in real life. That way, you can screen if you even have any kind of connection, if you’re interested whatsoever if you’re attracted to each other,” says Sydney Levin, 28. “And that way, if you’re not, you’re not wasting your time going out into the world and dealing with an hour of someone you don’t really like."

click to enlarge “We like O.H.S.O., Snooze, and El Charro Hipster.” - BENJAMIN LEATHERMAN
“We like O.H.S.O., Snooze, and El Charro Hipster.”
Benjamin Leatherman
When Levin finds a strong connection, she says she is willing to meet her dates at outdoor locations for a hike or at restaurants and bars following safety protocols.

The Arizona Department of Health Services says restaurants may operate at 50 percent occupancy with mandates, which includes the prohibition of parlor games. So, sorry, people who typically use that old, "Let me lean over your shoulder and show you how to make this bank shot at this pool table," move.

Tim Treguboff, 32, wasn’t actively dating when he began seeing someone in May, who he met prior to the pandemic. In addition to cooking and going on walks together, they select restaurants based on outdoor seating and/or ample space.

“We like O.H.S.O., Snooze, and El Charro Hipster,” he says.

Of course, restaurants are doing what they can to accommodate guests amid a pandemic.

“It’s always easy to tell when people are on first dates — the way they’re dressed, the uncomfortable body language," says James Swann, owner of Craft 64 in Scottsdale. "I notice people sitting further apart and doing their due diligence when it comes to social distancing, especially if they don’t really know each other.”

Swann says that though dine-in business is down, takeout has increased by about 10 percent. But he thinks more people are dating online and through Zoom. However, the restaurant patio has remained a popular place.

“As soon as the sun goes down,” he says, "The patio fills up."

Richard Hernandez, the kitchen manager at POMO Pizzeria in downtown Phoenix, says he's noticed regulars have started to come back, like family members stopping in to share some pizza. Hernandez says he'll spot couples who have been together for a while come in (again, body language), but as for recently connected couples, POMO offers outdoor dining.

However, POMO's patio sits on what used to be a bustling First Street, ideal for people-watching on a date. That feature has been reduced, which hopefully doesn't dampen the romance. But still, “People want things to go back to normal,” Hernandez says.

click to enlarge Phoenix singles prefer to date on patios like this one during the pandemic. - POMO PIZZERIA
Phoenix singles prefer to date on patios like this one during the pandemic.
Pomo Pizzeria
Meanwhile, Alma Hernandez (no relation to Richard Hernandez), a relationship and dating coach, has received more calls from younger clients over the past few months.

“I think it’s just because everyone is so lonely,” she says. “There have definitely been lots of men reaching out, asking, ‘How do I date through this?’”

Hernandez explained that it’s harder for her male clients to meet women, as fewer singles are out at restaurants and bars, and women are hesitant to go straight to a stranger’s home.

She's also noticed a dichotomy during the coronavirus: People either immediately jumped into serious relationships, “Going from zero to moved in,” or struggled to make any connection at all. Hernandez says she advises her clients not to call it a relationship right away or make any big decisions, encouraging a “COVID friendship” instead.

Seemingly taking that advice, Levin says the coronavirus has made her reconsider her values.

“I’m not just going to be with anybody for the sake of being with someone,” she says, asking, “Is this someone I am willing to risk my health for?”
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Natasha Yee is a freelance writer and yoga teacher who likes to explore the city. She considers the thesaurus her best friend.
Contact: Natasha Yee