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15 Health Mistakes You Can't Afford to Make at Restaurants

Keep yourself and others safe while dining out by staying away from these common mishaps.

Phone, keys, wallet, and mask. New safety precautions because of the coronavirus pandemic have rightfully taken over how we all interact in public.

With the number of cases continuing to rise, it's never too late to remind yourself of some common health mistakes you can avoid while at a restaurant or bar, especially if it just reopened recently with lots of safety measures in place. We gathered 15 blunders not to make while eating out.

Leaving your mask out on the table

mask before eating

Wearing a mask to come in and out of the restaurant is great, but be sure to place it somewhere to keep it away from any potential germs. This means in a clean, breathable paper or another type of bag. Here are 15 other Mistakes You're Making With Face Masks.

Not using hand sanitizer

Happy young woman wearing protective face mask disinfects her hands with alcohol sanitizer while sitting at table in restaurant on summer day.

It's best to wash your hands with soap and water since that is what cleans your hands best. But, you should be using hand sanitizer after touching things others have also been in contact with like menus, door handles, and chairs. Make sure that whichever brand you're using, that it is made up of at least 60% alcohol. Before your next public outing, read up on the 10 Mistakes You're Making With Hand Sanitizer.

Not washing your hands before eating

Woman Washing her hands with soap and water at home bathroom

It's best to use plain old soap and water (for at least 20 seconds) to kill all germs. Then, when you're eating and your hands are close to your face, the risk of transmitting the virus goes down, according to the CDC. At the beginning of the pandemic hand washing reminders were all over the place online and in stores, but it can't hurt to remind yourself of 20 Hand-Washing Mistakes That Help Coronavirus Spread.

Using your hands to eat

man is eating hamburger in a fast food restaurant and enjoying delicious food

Another health mistake you can't afford to make at a restaurant is eating with your hands. They pick up germs from everything you touch, and even if you sanitize or wash them right before you eat, it's safest to use a fork, spoon or knife. At least they're usually sanitized.

Related: You Won't Believe These Insane Ways Restaurants Are Sanitizing During COVID

Staying at the restaurant too long

Couple having lunch at rustic gourmet restaurant

The longer you're at a restaurant or bar, the higher your risk of catching the virus is. The Wall Street Journal says that prolonged exposure amounts to only about 15 minutes and that after this, the virus is more likely to spread.

Many restaurants have limits to how long each table can dine for. So check out their website or ask when you get there so you know. Also, avoid these 5 Major Mistakes You're Making When Going to a Restaurant.

Not staying six feet away from other diners

Social distancing rules in practice, alternate seating in local public food courts

Sitting or standing close to other guests at a restaurant puts everyone at risk for passing the virus around. This is especially true when eating because you can't wear a mask. Reopened restaurants have rules in place that tables have to be six feet apart, but if you think you're closer than that to others, you should move.

Not wearing a mask inside and out

entering restaurant

Masks are proven to help slow the spread of germs by protecting you from others and protecting others from you. They are required when out in public in over 20 states, and that includes going in and out of restaurants. Plus, America's Largest Coffee Chain is Now Requiring All Customers to Wear Masks.

Sitting near the AC

air conditioning

Air conditioning units can push air through an entire room. Sitting near one could mean that even if someone is a few tables away and coughs or sneezes, droplets can still reach you. But this is a mistake you can easily fix. It's best to make sure there are no vents or AC units near your table and instead sit near windows.

Sharing drinks

Close-up of a loving young couple sharing a drink at home

Whatever you order should stay away from others. Research proves that the exchange in saliva when sharing drinks or food could mean you or someone else gets infected. This can happen even if you feel fine since those who are asymptomatic can still pass it to others. Look out for other ways you could get sick — here are 20 Ways You Could Catch Coronavirus Dining Out.

Not sitting outside

busy restaurant

The CDC says that if you're going to eat at a restaurant or bar, sitting outside is the safest possible place to enjoy your food. It's a health mistake you can avoid relatively easily since many restaurants have open or expanded their al fresco dining options.

Using cash

cash payment

Many places still are not accepting cash, instead opting for contactless payment options. Cash can carry a multitude of germs (not just the coronavirus) so it's safer to just use your credit or debit card and avoid a health mistake.

Waiting near the door

Customers waiting in line

Because restaurants are operating at a limited capacity, you may have to wait for a table more often than you did before the pandemic started. If this is the case, make sure to find a spot (preferably outside) six feet away from others that might be waiting. This is good advice when waiting for takeout, too. Also, Expect These Major Changes at Restaurants in the Days Ahead.

Leaving your phone on the table

Phone sunglasses left on table

If you really think about it, your phone is in constant contact with your hands and other surfaces. Placing your phone on the table after you opened the door to a restaurant, touched the chair, and possibly the menu then infects it with those germs. Then leaving it out as other customers eat, talk and walk by can also mean it catches some droplets from the air.

It's best to wipe down your phone frequently to kill any kind of bacteria on it and to put it in your bag or pocket while you're at a restaurant.

Using table condiments

basket of condiments ketchup hot sauce mustard

Lots of restaurants removed these and other items from the tables in their dining rooms in order to keep them cleaner, but if your server brings out a bottle of ketchup or mustard, even salt or pepper, it's best to avoid this potential health mistake.

Sitting at the bar


Bars are known to be crowded, close together, dark, and sometimes, germy. Sitting at a bar on a stool (a lot of times they are anchored into the ground and can't be moved to accommodate social distancing) is a big health mistake to avoid at a restaurant. You're even close to the bartender who is interacting with a lot of people, too.

If you see a bar or restaurant allowing people to get close and sit at the bar, This Exactly How You  Report Them.

Amanda McDonald
Amanda has a master's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a bachelor's degree in digital journalism from Loyola University Chicago. Read more about Amanda
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