Ready to dine out again? 9 things to consider

Empty restaurant. (Nenad Maric )

In areas across the United States, restaurants are reopening. While many people are likely excited at the thought of getting out again, there are some things to consider before heading to dinner.

Understand, the goal remains to keep COVID-19 cases down, so we must all do our part, especially when leaving home, to keep ourselves and others safe.

Before we even get to the suggestions, we’ll say this: If you’re feeling sick or running a fever, don’t go out at all.

If you’re feeling well and you’re ready, try to do the following, to the best of your ability:

1. Check the guidelines of the restaurant. There may be state rules, but each individual restaurant may have additional guidelines for which they’ll want customers to adhere, such as taking your temperature or requiring you to use hand sanitizer when you arrive.

“Restaurants are trying to protect you as well as their staff,” Bridget Sweet, the executive director of food safety and Johnson and Wales University, told Reader’s Digest. “If the establishment requests that you wait in your vehicle until your table is ready, do so.”

2. Wear a mask upon arrival.

Maybe this could go without saying, but we’re going to anyway: Just wear the mask. It keeps you and others around you safe.

Most places require it anyway, because, according to the World Health Organization, wearing a face-covering can reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus by 85%.

And here’s the thing: Once you enter and get to your table, you can remove the mask to eat.

3. Keep your party small.

Any time you’re away from your home, social distancing is still recommended, despite where you go, and when you eat with a large group, that becomes harder to do.

Dr. Gary Linkov, an ENT physician and facial reconstructive surgeon in New York City, told Reader’s Digest, “I do not advise going out to eat with a large group of people, as (it) may lead to people leaning over the table in order to communicate, resulting in the spread of respiratory droplets among close contacts.”

4. Stay where the host seats you, and don’t move tables or chairs.

Some restaurants may have strict floor plans in order to keep their customers at a safe distance. If you’re unhappy with your table, wait until you can ask someone to move your party.

5. Don’t use regular menus.

Consider looking up the menu ahead of time. If you get there and you still aren’t sure what you’ll order, ask for a disposable menu.

“Avoid sharing items such as menus, condiments and food orders,” the National Restaurant Association suggests. “Use disposable or digital menus; toss disposable menus after each use.”

6. Order and eat your own food.

This probably seems like a given, but we all share food sometimes, right?

As tempting as it can be to snag a chip or a bite of your friend’s ice cream, try to refrain. People who have COVID-19 can be asymptomatic, so it’s important to mindful of who you’re sharing your food with.

7. Use a form of payment other than cash, and don’t use the restaurant pen.

Cash carries a plethora of germs. Your better bet is paying with a card -- or Apple Pay, if the restaurant accepts it. Word on the street is there are a few restaurants taking Venmo, too, so you have options! If you’ plan to pay with a card, take your own pen, if possible. When the server returns your card with a receipt for you to sign, use your own pen. That’s one fewer item you can get through without exchanging germs.

8. Don’t use the restroom.

We get this might not be possible -- especially if you just, well, gotta go.

A recent study showed that aerosol droplets can spread about 3 feet in the air when the toilet is flushed, and the coronavirus particles can be found in those droplets, as well as in feces.

“Flushing a toilet can cause violent turbulence, which will aid large-scale spread of viruses present in the toilet bowl,” the published study from Physics of Fluid says. “It has also been shown that flushing the toilet without putting the lid down is a bad habit.”

If you must go, be as safe as possible, and be sure to thoroughly wash your hands when you are done.

9. Don’t use restaurant door handles.

Think about how many hands touch the door handle. Ew, right? We get that this one could prove difficult, but do your best.

In the event the restaurant has doors held open, win! If it’s not, just be sure to wash or sanitize your hands as soon as you walk in or out.