Ready to Eat Out Again? Here’s How to Stay Safe

Eating out is a favorite pastime for many, a way to enjoy good food and connect with friends and family. As stay-at-home orders were announced for Texas, many missed going out to eat and enjoying food from their favorite restaurants.

While the move was necessary to stem the spread of the virus, it was still tough to forgo dining out at favorite restaurants and breaking bread with friends over a meal. 

As restaurants are being asked to scale their occupancy back down to 50 percent by Governor Abbott, you may have many questions, such as if it’s safe to dine out and what can you expect when you go to your favorite dining establishment. 

Restaurants have implemented a number of measures to keep both diners and staff safe. Your favorite dining out spot may look a little different from changes designed to keep the coronavirus from spreading. 

The most important things to remember when it comes to transmission are “time, space, people, place.” That is what William Miller, M.D., an epidemiologist at Ohio State University, told NPR. This means your risk for getting the virus increases when you spend a lot of time in a closed space with many people. Outdoor dining is better than indoor options. 

Here are some general tips when dining out:

  • Stay six feet apart – Opt for restaurants that have tables set six feet apart and keep six feet away from other diners. 
  • Wash your hands – Wash your hands well and often, especially before eating. If you touch the menu, table and chairs, wash your hands before digging into the bread. 
  • Opt for outside over inside – If the weather is nice and you can sit outside, it’s always the better option. Emily Landon, M.D., a hospital epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine, advised NPR readers to “always choose outdoors over indoor, always choose masking over not masking and always choose more space for fewer people over a smaller space.”

Let’s look at what you can expect with each option for getting food from your favorite restaurant. 

 

dining - takeout

While you may worry about picking up the coronavirus when getting takeout, the Food and Drug Administration notes that “there is no evidence of food, food containers, or food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19.”

If you’re concerned about contamination, the FDA advises washing your hands after handling food containers, after removing the food from them, and before you eat. 

Here are some other guidelines to keep in mind when picking up food from your favorite restaurant:

  • Opt for curbside pickup – Choose restaurants that offer curbside pickup or drive-through options. Avoid going inside the restaurant since it increases your risk of exposure to the virus and the number of surfaces you touch. 
  • Minimize interaction – Try to place your order online or over the phone and ensure it’s ready before going to pick it up. If you can, pay for your order before going to pick it up to limit interaction. Follow restaurant instructions for picking up your meal. 
  • Bring a mask – It’s always good to have a mask in case there is a problem and you have to roll down your window to talk to the delivery person. Be courteous and wear a mask to protect both parties.
  • Bring hand sanitizer – If you have to touch the delivery container or sign a receipt for your credit card, sanitize your hands before touching anything else in your car. 

 

dining - restaurant delivery

If you don’t want to pick up your food, you can have it delivered straight to your home. Keep in mind the following suggestions when ordering delivery:

  • Pay and tip ahead – If you’re ordering via an app, you can pay and tip your delivery person in advance to minimize interaction.
  • Opt for doorstep delivery – Ask the driver to leave your food at your doorstep rather than handing it to you. Wait until the person is at least six feet away before opening your door to pick it up.
  • Remove from packaging – Remove all food from the delivery bags and containers and dispose of the packaging. Wipe down the area where the bags and containers were placed.
  • Wash your hands – Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after disposing of the packaging. 

 

dining in a restaurant

If you’re itching to dine at your favorite restaurants, expect a few changes from the last visit. Many are operating at reduced capacities and implementing changes to keep both staff and diners safe. Here’s how things may look different:

  • You may need a reservation – Don’t expect to show up and put your name on a list. Many restaurants now require guests to make a reservation so call ahead to ensure you get a table. 
  • Expect longer wait times – Arrive at the restaurant at the time of your reservation but understand you may have to wait to be seated. Keep at least six feet apart from other people not in your dining party and opt to wait outside. 
  • The menu may look different – As restaurants reopen, they are not always offering their full menu. You may get a disposable menu with limited dining options that may not include your favorites. 
  • Double-check the hours – Even if your favorite dining spot is open for business, the hours may be different. For example, it may only be open for dinner or close earlier. Always call ahead to verify the current hours of operation. 
  • Don’t expect to linger – Many restaurants are placing limits on how long diners can stay. They are seating people in waves and limiting time at the table. 
  • Bring a mask – While you can’t wear a mask when eating, it’s always good to have one on hand if you have to wait for your table indoors. 
  • Follow your instinct – Going back out to eat after spending weeks at home can be anxiety-inducing for anyone. But remember, if at any point you don’t feel comfortable, you can always leave. If you’re waiting to be seated, let the host know you no longer feel comfortable dining in and ask if you can order your food to-go instead. Already seated? Ask for your food to be boxed up and your check brought out.

Dining out may look different after the coronavirus, but you can still enjoy your favorite restaurants as long as you practice some caution. Be courteous and remember that restaurants are trying to figure out the best way to serve you while keeping you and their staff safe. 

We’ve all had to adjust to a new normal for the greater good of those around us, especially those most vulnerable. It’s up to every person to do their part to stop the spread of the coronavirus until there is a treatment or a vaccine. 

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