It’s probably been a long time since you last went out to have a nice meal in our favorite restaurant, isn’t it? The COVID-19 pandemic has completely changed the restaurant dining experience as we knew it. As the virus spread like wildfire last year, and crowded places became the biggest risk zones, visiting a restaurant was the last thing on our minds and most of us had to stay indoors for our safety. A majority of the restaurants remained shut all of last year anyway with some offering take-out or home delivery options.
However, as the situation has improved significantly in many places over the last few months, primarily due to the vaccination drives, restaurants have started reopening. Furthermore, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can safely gather indoors without wearing face masks. Restaurants too have upped their safety protocols – making sure that there is sufficient spacing between tables, sanitizing their kitchen areas thoroughly every day, placing pumps of hand sanitizer at the entry points, and making sure the staff wears masks sat all time.
Despite that, though, many people are still a little wary about going out to eat in a crowded eating area, for obvious reasons. The scary and unpredictable way this virus has behaved has made a lot of us extra cautious. But there are still ways you can dine out safely in your favorite restaurant during COVID-19 provided you follow some tips. Here are a few of them.
1. Call beforehand and confirm if the staff has been vaccinated
Just because you are fully vaccinated and your favorite eatery has reopened, doesn’t mean you should immediately plan a lovely weekend dinner there. Remember, that scientists are still uncertain if the vaccine keeps you from transmitting COVID-19 to others. Moreover, no vaccine is 100% safe. But that doesn’t mean, you shouldn’t go out.
Before planning the trip, call the restaurant in advance and confirm if their staff has been vaccinated. Many restaurants have taken the responsibility of getting their entire staff vaccinated and are only allowing the ones who are fully vaccinated. If the restaurant you are planning to visit has done the same, and if you and anyone accompanying you have also got their jabs, then it’s safe to go ahead.
That being said, if upon reaching the restaurant you find that it’s fully packed, and that makes you uncomfortable, don’t go in. There’s no need to push yourself unnecessarily. Lots of restaurants are allowing only 50% capacity. Look for those instead.
2. Sit at tables with access to outside air
As you might be aware by now, when a person infected with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, or talks, aerosols float into the air, where they hang around for a while and can infect someone else. A place with good ventilation and airflow can discard those particles. This is why the safest place to sit in a restaurant currently is an outdoor sitting area if they have one. In case they don’t, you should look for seats that have access to windows or open doors so that good airflow would be ensured. If they don’t have either of these, ask the manager about the restaurant’s ventilation – i.e., if they have got it cleaned recently and if they have any portable air purifying units. This is because most of their ventilation measures won’t be visible to you.
If you are not satisfied, and if you feel social distancing measures aren’t being followed there, then don’t force yourself to dine in the place and consider a safer option.
3. Wear your mask when speaking to your server
Even if you’ve been fully vaccinated, you should keep your face mask on inside an eatery. There’s nothing wrong with being a little cautious in these uncertain times, particularly when the new virus variants are circulating. Yes, you have to take your masks off while you are eating, but make sure that your face mask is on when you are speaking to a server, even if they themselves are wearing one. Do the same if you have to speak to someone else at the restaurant. Also, make sure that you don’t end up touching other objects on the table – menus, salt shakers, table cloths, etc. – and then touch your mask.
4. Avoid sitting near air intake vents
When you are inside a restaurant, be mindful of the air conditioning vents. A July 2020 study by the CDC mentioned that a COVID-19 infected person in China, while he was in a restaurant, ended up infecting several people as they were most likely sitting near an air conditioner intake vent. Hence, the importance of good ventilation in a restaurant is vital.
Experts say that you should avoid sitting near air intake vents in a restaurant as they are usually located on the wall or ceiling above tables. In a supply vent, the air flows out of the HVAC ductwork system and is then recycled into the room. In an intake vent, on the other hand, the air flows into the ductwork as it sucks in air and returns it back to the HVAC system.
According to experts, you can sit near a vent in a restaurant as long as it’s a supply vent and not an intake one. Basically, you should look for a table that’s near a vent where the air is being pumped in and dispersed around the space, like the supply vent. That’s where you will be the safest.
If you aren’t sure which vent the place has, just ask the staff once before getting seated.
5. Sanitize your hands before and after eating
This goes without saying, but you should definitely be sanitizing your hands before and after your meals when you are eating in a restaurant. That’s because when your food is being prepared and when the servers are bringing you your order, someone is likely to touch the food or the plate that you’re then going to touch. Ideally, the servers should be wearing gloves while serving you the food. But that might not be the case always and you should hence follow your own safety norms.
You should ideally carry your own hand sanitizer with you. In case you haven’t, the restaurant is almost certain to have a hand sanitizer pump with them. Use it. Many of them these days also have automatic gel disinfection sanitizers installed at their entryways. You can use that too in case you haven’t carried your own.
The bottom line
Eating out at a restaurant during COVID-19 will be an unusual experience for many of us. It will take time to get used to this new way of dining out. But we must be patient and follow all the safety norms the authorities have advised. For instance, if you haven’t been vaccinated yet and are in a risk category for COVID-19 (or live with someone who is), you should think twice before deciding to go to a restaurant right now. A restaurant visit might not be worth the risk of potentially exposing yourself to the virus.
We are still learning how this virus operates and it’s hence essential that you take all the necessary safety measures when you are out in a restaurant where you will have to take your masks off at some point.