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The # 1 Worst Thing You Can Do at a Restaurant

Businesses will be opening their doors to the public soon, but that doesn't mean we can disregard social distancing efforts.
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Cities are beginning to reopen, which means people will once again be allowed to eat at their favorite restaurants, however, the dining experience will look wildly different—at least, initially.

On April 23, The National Restaurant Association issued a guide that restaurants must follow upon reopening to keep both the staff and customers safe. The document is divided into four parts detailing all of the essential protocols: food safety, cleaning and sanitizing, employee health monitoring and personal hygiene, and social distancing. Still, it will be on the customers to do their part to help contain the spread of the virus as well as keep themselves safe, too.

Dr. William Lang, Medical Director at WorldClinic, says the biggest concern for patrons will be maintaining good social distancing practices. In the event that restaurants aren't strictly adhering to the NRA's guidelines, customers should take it upon themselves to avoid congregating in large groups, especially in the lobby as they're waiting for a table to open up.

What's the number one thing you shouldn't do when you go to a restaurant?

Lang says there are two things you should avoid doing while dining in.

"Do not use any multi-use items on the table. In fact, when you go to sit down, it's best if the table is completely clear of all items," he says.

In other words, consider opting out of shaking parmesan onto your pizza or using the ketchup bottle to jazz up your burger, unless the staff wiped it down in front of you. The only exception here is if you use hand sanitizer (and correctly) immediately after touching either item and before touching your food.

Only sit at a table that was freshly wiped down and sanitized or dressed in a new table cloth, depending on the setting. Lang says the restaurant's bathroom could also be a health risk.

"When using the restroom, don't crowd in [it]" he says. "Make sure you wash your hands and use a paper towel to open the door on your way out."

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Do you think the precautions we take in restaurants immediately after cities reopen will have to be followed indefinitely?

"The most important time will be until we have a vaccine, but some of this—not all—will become a new normal as there will always be the typical infectious disease concerns, such as seasonal influenza, that these precautions will help address," says Lang.

Again, the component that will become increasingly difficult to uphold is social distancing, especially in restaurants that also have a bar.

"The shoulder-to-shoulder environment of the bar or restaurant will always have its draw and once we're through the COVID threat that will come back," he says.

Lang emphasizes that these measures we're taking now aren't just set in place to keep just you safe, they're largely there to protect many groups of people, especially those who fall within the high-risk category.

"Don't forget that this is not about eliminating risk, it's about managing the risk of significant disease. If you are young and healthy, then your risk of significant disease is minimal, but the more people who are infected, the more chance there is that people who are at-risk will be exposed to infection."

This is not to say you shouldn't celebrate the reopening of local restaurants, but it's a reminder to continue to do your part by following the guidelines. Be sure to check out Precautions You Must Take Before Going to a Restaurant for more guidance on how to stay safe while eating out.

Eat This, Not That! is constantly monitoring the latest food news as it relates to COVID-19 in order to keep you healthy, safe, and informed (and answer your most urgent questions). Here are the precautions you should be taking at the grocery store, the foods you should have on hand, the meal delivery services and restaurant chains offering takeout you need to know about, and ways you can help support those in need. We will continue to update these as new information develops. Click here for all of our COVID-19 coverage, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date.

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Cheyenne Buckingham
Cheyenne Buckingham is the news editor of Eat This, Not That!, specializing in food and drink coverage, and breaking down the science behind the latest health studies and information. Read more