Play (and eat) it safe.

By Jessica Migala
Updated June 04, 2020
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Whether your city has been open or is just starting to loosen restrictions, going to a restaurant again can feel refreshing—and needed. Before sitting down, you’ll want to take the lay of the land to see if your spot has adopted best practices to limit the risk of virus transmission, says Michael Bauer, MD, medical director of Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital in Lake Forest, Illinois. If you notice any of the following red flags, consider heading elsewhere.

Red flag #1: You’re not spaced out.

“There’s no question being outdoors is a safer environment than being indoors,” says Bauer. What’s more, with al fresco-style eating, it’s often easier to space tables far enough apart. Restaurants are getting creative: Some spots are filling their parking lots with tables, while other cities are shutting down certain streets to make room for diners.

Red flag #2: There’s a congested waiting area.

If you have to wait for a table, can you do so by keeping the requisite 6-foot physical distance between other patrons? Or are people waiting in a small area together? If they are, head back out the door.

Red flag #3: They hand you an old menu.

The restaurant should be minimizing contact with high-touch items, like menus, that would be filtered through multiple customers. When you’re seated, you should get either a single-use paper menu or the server may show you the menu on a tablet, which only they touch, says Bauer. Another option for you is looking up their menu on your phone at the table or ahead of time and coming prepared with your order in mind.

Red flag #4: Servers aren’t masked.

A mask is worn as an act of service to someone else. Wearing one protects nearby people from your respiratory droplets, which can spread the illness. Your server should be wearing a mask and wearing one properly, which means having it pulled above their nose the entire time. It should also fit well, so that they don’t have to continually put their hands up to their mouth to fidget with it.

Red flag #5: It’s a buffet.

Sorry, buffet fans, but now is not the time. COVID-19 may not be a foodborne illness, but you should avoid sharing food with others in the community in buffet eating, says Bauer. Similarly, avoid food presented on “shareable” plates and sharing serving utensils if you’re dining out with people who aren’t in your household or trusted circle of friends.