Just because restaurants are opening up again doesn’t mean it is safe to go. Reopening restaurants during a pandemic is a new situation, and as with all things COVID-19, we are learning as we go. Before you make your dinner reservations, here are some risk factors and precautionary measures you need to consider.
Assess your own personal risk
If you are high risk or live with someone who is, it is important to be extra careful every time you venture out, particularly for non-essential trips such as dining at a restaurant, where you will presumably be in sustained contact with others not in your household for an extended period of time. If you are in any way uncomfortable about the risk of eating at a restaurant—either to you or someone in your household—it is completely acceptable to say no.
You’ll also want to consider the area you live in. If there has been an uptick of new cases lately, or you live in an area where there are a lot of cases, you’ll need to be especially cautious.
It’s also important to assess the overall risk—not just to yourself but to the other people in the restaurant. If you know someone who is sick or if you work a job that puts you at higher risk for getting sick, you might want to avoid eating out in order to protect the people around you.
Consider the alternatives
I get it: Going to a restaurant gives you an opportunity to eat food you didn’t cook and spend time with friends in a place that is not your home. Given how hard these past few months have been, it’s no wonder people want to dine out.
But before you make that reservation, it’s worth thinking about whether you can achieve this same goal in a way that offers less risk. For example, you could order takeout from your favourite restaurant and meet friends at a park, where you’ll benefit from being in an environment which is not your home and eating food you didn’t have to cook, but will also be somewhere with more space to maintain proper physical distance.
If relaxation is the goal, it’s worth limiting as many sources of anxiety as possible. You’ll enjoy yourself a lot more if you can find ways to enjoy a meal without worrying about getting sick.
Gather information before you go
Some restaurants will have better precautions in place than others. You’ll want to have an idea of how they are handling reopening before you make a reservation. Checking out their website or social media accounts, or simply call and ask. If it seems like they haven’t thought it through—or you aren’t comfortable with their levels of precaution—then you’ll want to reconsider your choice.
Precautions restaurants should be taking include offering additional protections for employees who are higher risk, additional sanitation and disinfection procedures, ensuring a safe layout that allows patrons to practice physical distancing as well as ongoing monitoring of employee health, which includes planning for what to do in the event an employee gets sick.
If a restaurant looks crowded, don’t go in
If you get to a restaurant and it looks crowded to the point no one is able to maintain 1.5 metres or more of physical distance, don’t go inside. Are the tables far enough apart? Are diners packed too closely together?
Be very mindful of any surfaces you touch
The more people there are in an environment, the more likely it is that people have touched surfaces such as table-tops, glassware and door handles. It’s important to be watchful of any surfaces you come into contact with and to bring hand sanitiser for when you do have to touch high-contact surfaces.
Consider dining outside
If you can, it’s better to dine al fresco. Eating indoors means breathing in the same air as everyone else—and evidence suggests the virus lingers in the air in an enclosed space, even if you’re sitting six feet away from others—while outdoors offers circulating fresh air, which can lower your risk.
Don’t stay too long
The risk of transmission is, in many ways, a probability game. The longer you are in an enclosed area with other people, the more likely you are to get infected. Spending an hour in a restaurant will be less risky than spending three hours there. If you are going to eat at a restaurant, it helps to limit the amount of time you spend there. If, at the end of the meal, you still don’t want to go home, head to a nearby park (as long as it isn’t too crowded) rather than lingering at the table.
As we’ve discussed previously, risk isn’t an all-or-none scenario, but exists on a spectrum. Before you make any decision, it’s important to have an idea of what the relative risks are, as well as the precautions you need to take, to keep yourself as safe as possible.