After cooking our own breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day during an unexpectedly long coronavirus quarantine, one thing is for certain: Americans missed their restaurants.
In recent weeks, many restaurants reopened as state restrictions loosened—but with COVID-19 cases still growing in various areas of the country, grabbing Friday night dinner with the family at your regular spot may feel risky.
The good news: It is possible to enjoy the experience of dining out in the midst of this pandemic. However, “to do so with the least impact to ourselves, our family, and our community, we must continue to maintain a persistent vigilance and exercise stamina in our behavioral modifications,” says LA-based emergency physician George Fallieras, M.D., Medical Director of BioCorRx.
If you’re considering making a restaurant reservation in the near future, take the following precautions to keep yourselves and others protected.
Before You Leave Home
1. Do a self-health check
If you have a fever or any of the symptoms related to COVID-19—including shortness of breath, cough, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, sore throat, or new loss of taste or smell—stay home.
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If you are not sure if your symptoms may be related to the novel coronavirus, schedule a virtual visit with a doctor before going anywhere, recommends Fallieras.
2. Choose your restaurant wisely
The best restaurant to dine at will have many more requirements now than before the pandemic. “It’s about thinking through the guest experience from arrival to exit: the sanitation of door handles upon arrival, keeping restrooms sanitized and disinfected, cleaning in between seatings, using technology for menus for a more contactless experience, etc.,” explains Taylor Smith, founder of CJS Global, a leading sanitation company for the hospitality industry.
It may not be obvious which restaurants are taking better safety measures than others, but there are some critical factors to keep an eye out for. “The most optimal situation would be a restaurant with ample outdoor seating or well-ventilated indoor space that allows for the six-foot distance guidelines to be followed,” says internal medicine physician Christine Bishara, M.D., founder of From Within Medical.
“Ideally, this translates into available seating of up to half of normal capacity in indoor spaces,” she says. Although outdoor spaces pose slightly less risk, the distance parameters still need to be followed.
3. Pack a few essentials
In addition to a mask, bring a pen in case the restaurant does not offer contactless payment. “This way you don’t have to use a pen that’s been shared with other patrons,” notes Smith. He also recommends packing sanitation wipes so you can wipe down certain surfaces, like your table and chairs, to be extra cautious of potentially infected areas.
Upon arriving at the restaurant
1. Take proper sanitary precautions
As you enter the restaurant or their outdoor area, be conscious of every touchpoint (such as door handles) that you come into contact with.
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After you’ve been shown your table, wash your hands in the bathroom and use a tissue or paper towel to touch doors afterward, Smith recommends. You’ll also want to think through any additional touchpoints should you need to use the toilet.
2. Be mindful of others
Keep your mask on at all times unless you are seated at your table. “There may be an adjustment period to wearing the mask,” Fallieras says. “But it does not affect your oxygen levels. Always keep it on until you are sitting at your table and ready to start eating or drinking.”
The use of masks has become a point of contention for some, but a recent study confirmed that wearing face coverings significantly reduced the spread of coronavirus infections.
3. Don’t linger
Before the pandemic, you may have spent time time unwinding at your table after your meal. Now, it is safer for everyone involved for you to leave the restaurant once you’re done eating. “We know that you’re more likely to get infected with prolonged exposure and the amount of virus particles you are exposed to,” says Bishara. “If you are dining out, please be mindful of that.”
Out of respect for other diners and the restaurant, who are facing limited seating capacity, it is also appropriate not to stick around past dessert.
4. Skip the bar
Even if you are young and healthy, avoid grabbing after-dinner drinks at the restaurant’s bar. “Invariably, social distancing will be compromised, in particular when patrons’ impulse control is impaired with alcohol,” says Fallieras. “Remember that if you get infected, you will likely spread it to a few people, who will spread it to a few more people, and one of those individuals may have a bad outcome.”
Upon Returning Home
The very first thing you should do when you get home is wash your hands, says Bishara. (Yes, even if you used hand sanitizer on the car ride or walk back.)
The Bottom Line
These precautions may seem extreme, but they’re your best bet at limiting the pandemic’s impact on yourself, your family, and your community.
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