Months into the coronavirus pandemic, people are still finding ways to maintain some sense of normalcy through new norms of social distancing, wearing masks, and being hyper-aware of their health. While outdoor dining has become a popular way to eat out around the nation, there are still potential dangers to look out for. But with a little vigilance and caution, you can learn how to dine outdoors safely during the pandemic.
Dr. Jen Caudle, DO, family physician and associate professor at Rowan University, tells Bustle that safe practices can begin even before you leave your house to go to a restaurant. "Before you go into the restaurant, call ahead to find out what procedures the restaurant is putting in place so that you feel comfortable," she says. Find out the restaurant is doing to ensure the safety of its customers as well as its staff. Is it mandating masks? Is it keeping customers six feet apart? Are there contactless menus? All of these things can play into how safe you feel while dining out.
Then, when you get to the restaurant, Dr. Caudle says whether it's mandated or not, masks should be essential. "You need to wear your mask the entire time that you're at the restaurant except for when you're eating," she says. It is a good practice to keep your mask on even while ordering, to protect yourself and servers from potential exposure.
Dr. Caudle explains that it's also good practice to avoid touching things on the table as much as you can. "You want to be very, very careful of items that are reused in restaurants," she says. "Are you retouching something that's been touched over and over and how is the restaurant dealing with that?" Salt shakers, condiment dispensers, and menus are all items that are often communal, meaning they can be things that carry a lot of bacteria. If you must touch these items, try using a tissue to do so. Or, as Dr. Caudle suggests, wash your hands before and after you actually start eating.
It's not just communal items that you should be avoiding but shared foods as well. Instead of ordering appetizers "for the table" that everyone has to dip into or reach for, it might be safer idea to just order separate ones for each person. If you absolutely must share, try to use utensils instead of your fingers and avoid double dipping at all times.
Also, be weary of who you're going out to eat with. "I think it's safest to go out to eat with people who are sort of in your bubble, meaning people that you have been orientating with, or people that have had very, very similar social distancing practices to you," Dr. Caudle says. "I still am really not that comfortable with the idea of mingling, because we know that COVID is still very much out there and some cities have a lot more COVID cases than others." Avoid eating out in big groups of people who you haven't been quarantining with, Dr. Caudle recommends.
She also emphasizes that people shouldn't linger around after eating. "It's not pre-COVID days, so having a boozy brunch for three hours may not be the best thing in this day and age," she says. "Don't linger longer than you have to."
Dr. Jen Caudle, DO, family physician and associate professor at Rowan University