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7 Things To Bring With You to a Restaurant Right Now

Restaurants may be open but that doesn't mean they're safe. Keep everyone healthy by showing up prepared.

As a whole, our nation has perhaps never been more grateful for the summertime than this year. As long as it's nice out, we can maintain social distancing protocols while also enjoying a host of new activities. The quarantine days are past us (for now) which has enabled us to take long walks with nearby friends, sunbathe six feet apart, and, in most places, dine at restaurants.

Before you head out to make that reservation, though, take a beat to ensure you're fully equipped. While restaurant reopenings may mark what feels like a return to normalcy, the continual high rate of COVID-19 infection indicates that it will be a while before we can actually dine like we used to.

In the meantime, here's a handy checklist of items to bring with you to restaurants right now (plus one you can leave at home) to keep yourself and others healthy.

You should bring…

Hand sanitizer

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

This obvious but ever-important sidekick is a must-have at all times, but especially in a place where you are sitting down to eat. ABC News and The University of Arizona determined recently that there are over 200,000 bacterial organisms on commonplace restaurant items like menus, salt and pepper shakers, and even the table itself. Although CDC data shows that the main way COVID-19 spreads is not through surfaces, it is still possible. Better safe than sorry, right?

A face mask

outdoor dining

A face mask may be the most important item to bring, as it protects all those around you from catching the virus if you are infected. Plus, without it, the restaurant has the right to deny you service. The CDC's restaurant reopening guidelines encourage servers to wear masks, but as patrons, we can do our part as well. Don't become one of these server's horror stories by being a customer who refuses to wear their mask or questions why the staff is wearing theirs. (Related: 3 Horrifying Ways Diners are Responding to Mask Rules)

A mask bag

mask in bag

You truly learn something new every day, but especially when it comes to best practices in the pandemic. Research shows that storing your mask in a clean, dry place while you're not using is the most hygienic practice. Consider bringing a brown paper bag or a plastic Ziploc bag to put your mask in, instead of just throwing it in a pocket or purse (guilty!) during dinner.

A credit card (instead of cash)

Female customer making contactless payment to a waiter who is wearing protective face mask in a cafe.

In an effort to reduce germ-flow, some businesses have stopped accepting cash altogether. The reason? American bills are filthy—studies have shown that they contain all kinds of bacteria, viruses, and even trace amounts of cocaine. A credit card trumps cash because it can be wiped down, but ultimately, the safest way to pay (if the restaurant has the technology for it) is via contactless methods. So definitely bring that credit card, but also, prepare for date night by setting up contactless pay on your phone.

Extra room in your budget to tip generously

tip jar

Before you budget for a restaurant visit, consider this: If you have enough money to go out to eat during the pandemic, might you also have enough to tip extra generously? Servers are working in hazardous conditions, and with restaurants partially open, they aren't making nearly the amount of cash they did in tips prior to the pandemic. While there is debate about just how much extra to tip—some sources suggest 50%—anything you can give counts.

A business card

Happy waiter wearing protective face mask while showing menu on digital tablet to female guest in a cafe.

Your business cards probably haven't seen the light of day in a while as in-person networking is not a hallmark of 2020. But, don't let them go to waste! Bring one when you go out to eat as an easy way to give the restaurant your contact info, in case they need to do contact tracing. Several counties, such as Los Angeles, are mandating that restaurants collect customer information in case of an outbreak. Handing over a (sanitized) business card simplifies the process.

Your own drinks

wine on table

The name of the game here is the fewer times the server has to come to your table, the better. If a restaurant offers the option of BYO, take it. Otherwise, you can help reduce server-interaction by ordering everything at once when they arrive.

And one thing not to bring…

Your own silverware. While the idea of BYOS (bring your own silverware) seems extra sanitary, because of FDA guidelines the utensils at the restaurant are most likely cleaner than what you would bring from home.

Kaley Roberts
Kaley Roberts is a food writer. Read more about Kaley
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