American restaurants, battling for survival amid the coronavirus, are starting to ask the question: Even when the lockdown lifts, how do we lure back skittish diners? Their margin for error is very small.

"All of a sudden, it’s like: ‘I don’t know if I want someone touching my food,’” said Bob Goldin, a partner at consulting firm Pentallect Inc. Illustrating the scope of the challenge, he added: "I think we’re all learning we can live without restaurants.”

There’s growing apprehension that restaurants have suddenly lost their appeal on a deeper level that will reverberate well after COVID-19 fades. Consumers, many of whom are cooking at home and facing dimmer economic prospects, will likely be slow to congregate again in bars and restaurants.