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40 Ways to Stay Safe as Restaurants Reopen Near You

Whatever you do, don't sit near the air conditioner!

Is your city in the midst of the reopening process? While many hungry diners are eager to go out to support local eateries that have lost a significant amount of business during the pandemic, there are some things to keep in mind before you head to the restaurant too quickly.

There has been mixed feedback from customers and servers about how safe it really is to be dining out, especially because it requires your mask to be removed when it is otherwise mandatory in many states.

A lot of changes have been implemented in restaurants that were enacted to keep diners and staff members as safe as possible, while still maintaining some sense of "normalcy," but there are added steps you can take as a customer that will further ensure your health and the safety of those around you. Here are some ways to stay safe during restaurant reopening, both for yourself and for other diners.

And for more ways to stay safe, don't ignore these 5 Red Flags Your Favorite Restaurant Is Violating Coronavirus Restrictions.

Stay six feet apart

socially distanced tables

Restaurants should have tables set up so that no one outside of your six-foot bubble comes near you, but be sure to practice this as you enter, exit, or wait for the bathroom.

Social distancing is no joke! As restaurants reopen, here's The # 1 Worst Thing You Can Do at a Restaurant.

No sharing food

sharing food

Especially if you're dining with people you don't currently live with, tasting around the table shouldn't be happening.

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Stay away from the AC

air conditioning

The air-conditioning can help move the virus in the air from an infected person a few tables over who coughed or sneezed. If you have to sit inside, make sure no vents or AC boxes are around you.

And if you're eating indoors, this is The Most Dangerous Place to Sit in a Restaurant After Coronavirus.

Properly store your mask

brown bags

Don't just throw your mask in your purse or place it on the table. When you're not wearing it, place your mask inside a clean, breathable bag (like a paper one), so any potential moisture has time to dry. This will ensure you're preventing the growth of potential mold and/or fungus.

Carry hand sanitizer

hand sanitizer

This should be a must when you're traveling just about anywhere outside of your home, but especially when you're dining in a restaurant. And be sure to avoid these 10 Mistakes You're Making With Hand Sanitizer.

Sit outside

eating outside

Dining outdoors on a non-windy day instead of indoors can have a lower transmission rate thanks, to the greater volume of air. Food safety specialist Steven Chevalier gave his advice on outdoor versus indoor dining: "Choose a venue that has an outdoor option; due to the significant difference in [the] volume of air outside as opposed even to a well-ventilated indoor restaurant environment that could trap and recirculate COVID-19 particles, diners can reduce the chance of breathing in viral particles by being outdoors due to the dilution effect, thus significantly lowering their risk. Given that the concentration of virus in the air is a significant factor in transmission, a light breeze or wind outdoors could scatter and dilute the virus concentration in the air if someone nearby is sick."

Ask about contactless pay

contactless payment

Whether you're handing over your card or cash to the server or paying yourself at checkout, ask if contactless payment options are available from your phone so there's minimal touching. It's The #1 Safest Type of Payment to Use at the Grocery Store, too!

Avoid menus

restaurant menu on table

It's best to avoid any reusable or frequently touched items, including your menu. Some restaurants have done away with physical menus altogether, so take a look at what's good online in advance, and come ready to order.

Wash your hands before & after eating

Washing hands

Before and after you eat, head to the bathroom to thoroughly wash your hands, especially if you had to touch a door to come inside. The same goes for after eating, but you may want to sanitize once you're outside if you're touching a door to exit.

And be sure to avoid these 20 Hand-Washing Mistakes That Help Coronavirus Spread.

Assess the risky zones

entering restaurant

Some areas are safer than others because they're able to be more regularly maintained between use. Taylor Smith, founder of leading restaurant sanitation company CJS Global says: "The things to be most mindful of are the areas that restaurants do not have much control over on a minute by minute basis: unless a restaurant is physically keeping their door open or has someone opening the door, be mindful of the door handle. A reminder of this for public restroom doors as well."

Wear your mask in & out

eating outside

Anytime you're not actively eating, try to keep your mask on as much as possible. Especially when your waiter or waitress comes back around to collect your dishes and hand over the check, you should be wearing a mask.

Don't touch your face

touching face

Follow the same rules you'd be mindful of while at the grocery store or out shopping, and keep your hands off of your face to lower the risk of the virus entering your body and infecting you.

Dry your hands

drying hands

After you use the restroom and wash your hands, make sure they are thoroughly dried, as wet hands can more easily pick up virus microbes. Also, be sure that you have a way of safely opening the bathroom door when you exit.

Research the restaurant

woman on phone

Thanks to social media, it's easy to stay updated with the changes that businesses have implemented as they begin to reopen. Check-in on Instagram, Facebook, and Yelp to see if other diners have started to head there, and get more information about the precautions they are taking.

Be mindful of timing

eating out

Even though it may seem like a social outing, it's not entirely risk-free, and the longer you are out, the greater risk you take of coming in contact with the virus. Rick Camac, the Dean of Restaurant & Hospitality Management at the Institute of Culinary Education, says to "enjoy your meal, but as some restaurants may have time limits on seating, be sure to leave in a timely manner after finishing your meal."

Your ultimate restaurant and supermarket survival guide is here!

Choose your seating wisely

eating small group

Though the restaurant may have to pick your seating for you, if you have the option to pick, try to steer clear of any tables near high-traffic areas, like the kitchen entrance or exit, the bathroom, or front door.

Skip the gloves

no gloves

Think about everything you touch in the restaurant before you get to your table and some of those germs potentially making their way into your mouth from your gloves. No, thank you! As long as you engage in good hygiene, you can skip wearing the gloves.

Sanitize your phone

cleaning phone

Come prepared to the restaurant with handy sanitizing wipes for your phone, especially if you'll be using it during your meal. Even if you're washing your hands regularly, it doesn't hurt to wipe down your phone!

Make a reservation

reservation table

Because capacity is limited in many locations, it's probably best to make a reservation in advance so you can ensure your table, even if you don't think it's a busy time.

Skip the cash

Handing credit card

Opt for a contactless payment method rather than using cash. Many retail establishments and grocery stores have put a hold on accepting cash over the last several months as research looks into the risk factor associated with handling money.

Click here for all of our latest coronavirus coverage.

No eating with your hands

friends eating

Sorry, fries, burgers, wings, and pizza, it's probably best if hand-held foods are eaten in the safety of your own home. Even if your hands are washed, it's best to stick to a fork and knife situation in restaurants.

No finger-licking, please

finger licking

On that note, absolutely no finger-licking—even if your food is "finger-lickin' good!"

Skip the condiments


Ask about getting condiments and sauces such as maple syrup and ketchup on the side of your food instead of having the actual container brought over to your table.



Though restaurants should be staying true to their promises of thoroughly sanitizing and cleaning, you can't be too careful! Bring your own wipes to sanitize your table before you sit down.

Avoid hand dryers

hand dryers

While electric hand dryers were initially put into place as an eco-friendly alternative to paper towels, the industry never could have seen this coming! A 2019 study view showed that using disposable paper towels is more effective than conventional dryers for removing microbes when drying hands that weren't thoroughly washed.

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Clear your plate

Plate fork knife

Come with an empty belly, and clear your plate! While coronavirus has not been proven to be transmittable via food, it can be on other surfaces such as plates and to-go containers, so it's probably best to eat what you can at the restaurant and skip the leftovers.

If you do bring some food home, know that your waiter probably won't box it up for you, and you'll have to do it yourself. For an easy, eco-friendly way to minimize any potential spread of germs, bring your own Tupperware.

Be honest with your co-diners

eating at restaurant

If you're using restaurants being open again as an opportunity to catch up with friends that you otherwise haven't seen much in the past few months, be honest about how well you have or have not been following recommended guidelines.

Dr. Theodore C. Bailey, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center (GBMC), shared: "It is essential to be honest with those we hope to eat out with how we are feeling as far as symptoms of illness and how good (or bad) we have personally been with other aspects of social distancing. The more we can freely communicate among each other what we are up to (are we using masks, are we washing hands, have we had sick contacts, are we limiting our contacts with the public), the more we can assess for ourselves whether this or that dinner meet-up should or shouldn't happen now as opposed to a few weeks down the road."

Go easy on the drinks

alcoholic drinks

If you're choosing to enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail with your dinner, make sure you're staying within your limits. Your guard is down, which means you likely won't be as vigilant about hand-washing and hygiene as you otherwise would be.


metal straw

Bring your own metal or silicone straw to enjoy your drinks and to avoid sipping straight from the rim of the cup.

Wait before entering


Wait a few minutes before entering the restroom if you've seen someone else exit, which can allow time for the aerosolized particles to dissipate from the air, says the team at Ikon Health. Restrooms are notoriously on the small side and likely have little to no fresh circulating air.

And whatever you do, steer clear of these 25 Coronavirus Mistakes You Don't Know You're Making.

Wear a mask when you walk around

entering restaurant

This one is fairly self-explanatory, but should you have to use the restroom, run to the car, or get up for something, put your mask on.

Be patient

restaurant interior

Protect your mental health (and the restaurant employees') and keep calm. Where you're dining is likely doing the best job that they can given the current circumstances, so have an extra dose of patience before you go in.

No teeth-picking

teeth picking

Got something stuck in your teeth? Leave it until you're safe at home. Max Harland, CEO of Dentaly, further elaborated on this: "You should also avoid cleaning your teeth in the restaurant bathroom! While brushing and flossing are incredibly important and some people do like to clean their teeth right after they eat, there's just too much risk of having your toothbrush be infected by using it in a restaurant bathroom.

It's also just not a good idea to have your hands near your mouth or to be picking at your teeth while at a restaurant, as you can't be sure your hands are clean or that you won't infect other people."

Stay away from anyone coughing

coughing man

While you may be feeling healthy and prepared to safely dine out, it's not likely that all customers have taken similar precautions. Should you encounter someone who is coughing or sneezing an excessive amount in your area, it's best to ask to be moved if possible, because the virus can spread beyond six feet.

Skip the salad bar

salad bar

Though an all you can eat option might seem tempting, it's not worth the potential risk. Many salad bars and buffets have remained closed to protect patrons as restaurants reopen, and for a good reason.

Not convinced about buffets? This Shocking Video Shows How Fast Germs Spread in Restaurants.

Say bye to buffets


The same idea applies here. Even if buffets potentially begin to reopen, you'll want to skip it in favor of a sit-down meal instead.

Leave your kids at home

family restaurant

Having a fussy baby or an energized toddler doesn't always create the ideal dining scenario, let alone when you have added precautions to keep in mind, so for their safety, it's probably the best choice to leave your kids at home if possible.

Stay home if you're feeling sick

Sick woman

This should apply always when eating out, but just stay home! It's not worth potentially infecting someone else if you are sick, and you could even face legal action because of it.

Order your food to-go

takeout app

If all else fails and you're just not feeling safe about going out to eat once you arrive at the restaurant, don't sweat it! Just order your food to-go and practice good hygiene on your way in and out of the restaurant.

Stay informed

woman sitting at home on laptop

Most importantly, stay informed about local ordinances, regulations, and statistics in your area. Stay safe!

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.
Jacqueline Weiss
Jacqueline is a blogger and writer, passionate about making healthy eating and cooking accessible to all. Read more about Jacqueline
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