Restaurant dining has been forever changed since COVID-19. Now every table is going to be at least 6 feet apart, menus need to be disposable and both hand sanitizer and face masks have become the norm. No matter how many safety measures are put in place by a restaurant, there will always be some level of risk. At the most basic level, dining in at a restaurant can take considerably more time out of your day and bring you into close contact with far more people than a trip to the convenience store or gas station; this increased time among higher-than-average headcounts of people only raises the chances that you might contract the virus from someone who may not even realize she has it. That having been said, there are several precautions and safeguards you can implement in order to minimize the risk of becoming infected.
Research the Eatery
Look on the website and social media outlets for the restaurant's policy regarding COVID-19 safety. If you cannot find any information, you should probably consider eating somewhere else. Furthermore, definitely avoid any establishment that doubts the severity of this particularly fatal virus.
Call Ahead to Check If Staff Wear Masks
This may be one of the more obvious actions to take. Prior to COVID-19, calling up to ask if employees wore masks would earn some amount of confusion or concern from the receptionist; now it should be expected. If a place takes offense at your question, you should look elsewhere to grab a bite.
Wear a face cover if you are eating indoors and/or will be closer than 6 feet from other people. Obviously you will want to move the mask out of the way when you are ready to enjoy your meal, but face protection should be maintained at all other times. Lastly, do your best to keep physical contact with your mask to a minimum; the fewer things that touch it, the more reliable it can be.
Stick to Social Distancing
Unless you are eating with people you regularly live with, do your best to keep at least six feet of distance from the other members of your party.
Handle Parking Yourself
Every stranger that enters your car increases the risk of contracting COVID-19. It is with this reason in mind that you should always park your car on your own terms. Not only will you save yourself a few dollars for the tip it would cost you to use a valet but it also means one less person makes contact with the interior of your vehicle.
Social Distancing Extends Beyond the Meal Table
Restaurants and the paths to enter and exit them are also areas where crowding can be a concern. Since crowds increase the chance of infection, you should do your best to keep at least six feet of distance away from anyone else, be it in the line to get inside or pay at the register. Additionally, avoid places that position their tables exactly six feet apart; if someone is sitting behind you at an adjacent table and can lean back in their chair, that means that you are less than 6 feet apart from that person.
Keep Your Hands Clean
Regularly wash your hands, ideally with some hot, soapy water. Do this for at least 20 seconds, making sure to get every part of your hands. Furthermore, this should be done when you enter and leave the establishment. If you cannot access hot water and soap, possibly because the line to the bathroom is considerable, hand sanitizer will do in a pinch.
Your Dining Space Matters
Barring any natural phenomenon like thunderstorms, tornadoes or flooding, it is always better to dine outside and with tables that offer at least 6 feet of space between people. Eating outdoors gives considerably more room for the droplets of moisture we expel, through coughing, sneezing and even just breathing, to land on something rather than someone.
Avoid Self-Service Venues Like The Plague
Just because you are serving yourself does not mean that you are the only person to handle things at the station. Plenty of other people have gone for the same napkins, straws and condiments and you and plenty more will do so after you. Touchscreens are also another major contact point and likely one of the more prominent ones in an era where many pay with plastic over cash.
Check the Entire Bathroom Before Using It
You should not use any bathroom that lacks sufficient soap and paper towels. You also want to see that the now-obligatory hand sanitizer is at least 60% alcohol. By checking for these details before you use the facilities, you ensure that you avoid the problem of needing to freshen yourself up and not having enough materials to do so in earnest.
Be Aware of Your Area's Infection Rate
Do some basic research into how severe COVID-19 is where you plan to be dining out. If many cases are reported, it may be best to table the outing for another time or at least another area.
Consider Portable Dining Options
Rather than dining in, see if your preferred restaurant handles deliveries on its own or is affiliated with any of the major meal delivery sites, such as "DoorDash" or "GrubHub." Sure, you may not have the same atmosphere as the place you would eat, but the food probably tastes better when you do not have to worry about contracting COVID-19 from a server.
With all of the concern over infection, people sometimes forget that any responsible restaurant has likely maintained a strong policy of sanitation and hygiene among its staff for years. The industry has plenty of experience in keeping the back of the house, where all the food is prepared, as clean and sanitary as possible. In short, be not fearful but vigilant.