Is it safe to eat indoors at a restaurant? Here is what you need to know

Plenty of restaurants have begun allowing people to dine in, but at what cost? Coronavirus cases continue to rise in some of these areas, and some have even had to go back a phase and resume dining only outdoors. 

In Marin County, California, city officials are shutting down indoor dining again for at least three weeks amidst a new influx of coronavirus cases. NYC was set to allow indoor dining starting July 6th, but due to increasing cases, those plans have been postponed indefinitely. The same goes for New Jersey, which was set to reintroduce indoor dining on July 2nd.

This has left many people asking if they moved to the next phase too quickly, and what will indoor dining look like when it finally resumes?

We all know the basics by this point: keep your distance, wear your mask (when not eating or drinking), and wash your hands. Simple enough, right? Yet, a lot of people seem to have trouble following these guidelines, which is dangerous not only to themselves but to others as well, especially the restaurant workers. 

In some states, restaurant workers have been instructed to wear face shields, making it a step above the face mask to ensure protection against the virus. 

AJ Bontempo, the owner of Ainslie in Brooklyn, says that both servers and guests have seemed happy and comfortable being back, even though New York currently only has outdoor dining available. 

“Our servers seem to be handling the protocols when it comes to customer interaction very well. I feel as a whole our team is extremely sensitive to all guidelines while providing a positive experience to our guests. We’re fortunate enough at Ainslie that we have ample space allowing our guests to easily maintain proper distancing between groups.”

For the restaurants that don’t have a lot of space outdoors, the answer is a little different. Some places haven’t even opened for outdoor dining yet, out of concern for the safety of their employees and customers. Joel Tietolman, owner of Mile End Deli in NYC, said a lot of their employees are still too nervous to come to work. 

“We decided to not resume any table service (including outdoors) because we felt it was not the socially responsible thing to do – both for our staff and customers. I think it’s hard enough to get people to follow the guidelines for takeout and delivery, so opening up too soon is a big risk. We will likely be adding a couple tables soon for takeout customers, but not full service.”

The lack of sales for restaurants that weren’t open at all during the past few months and the lack of social interaction on the part of customers is a dangerous combination if not handled carefully. Everyone wants to get back to “normal”, even though nothing about any of this has been normal. 

Tietolman adds, “Mile End has been very fortunate that we were geared for takeout and pivoted relatively easily in all this, but a lot of places had zero sales for months before outdoor seating, so I can’t judge what they do now to survive.”

For the states where indoor dining is allowed, here are some things to consider before visiting your favorite restaurants:

Does the restaurant have good ventilation? If the restaurant in question is cramped and there isn’t enough space in between tables, you may want to hold off.

Do they have sanitizing stations? All restaurants should be including hand sanitizer at each table, as well as upon entry/exit. Avoid touching handles and doorknobs with your bare hands, if possible.

Are the staff wearing masks? This should be a given at this point, but every person on staff should be wearing a mask.

Are they doing temperature checks? Not all restaurants are doing this yet, but if they are, it’s a good additional step to ensure the safety of everyone inside the dining area.

If you’re unsure of any of these, call the restaurant before visiting and ask! Especially if you have underlying conditions or complications that could make you more susceptible. Having peace of mind will make your dining experience more enjoyable.