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A return to dining out?

A bowl of grilled chicken salad with a cloth napkin and glass of juice.

Restaurant dining rooms are open in some areas of the country, and you might be tempted to give them a try after all this time stuck at home. But how do you know if it's safe?

Here's what you should look for in a pandemic dining experience.

The safest options

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the safest way to dine out is still at a restaurant whose food service is restricted to:

  • Drive-thru.
  • Delivery.
  • Take-out.
  • Curbside pickup.

But if you're considering a sit-down option, here's how they stack up:

Somewhat riskier: A restaurant that limits on-site dining to outdoor seating only. Tables outdoors should be spaced at least 6 feet apart.

Riskier still: A dining space that allows both indoor and outdoor seating. All tables should still be spaced at least 6 feet apart.

Highest risk: A dining space that allows both indoor and outdoor seating—and it hasn't reduced capacity in order to space tables at least 6 feet apart.

Plan your restaurant visit

For a safer sit-down visit, CDC suggests you do some homework before heading out:

  • Check the restaurant's website and social media accounts to see if they've explained their COVID-19 safety practices. If anything isn't clear, call the restaurant before going.
  • Confirm that all staff will be wearing cloth face masks.
  • Make sure that seating will be limited to allow tables to be spaced at least 6 feet apart.
  • Confirm that the restaurant is cleaning and disinfecting tables and any shared items after each party's use.
  • Find out if they are using disposable or digital menus. Or browse their online menu and decide ahead of time what to order.
  • Be sure there is self-parking availability.

To protect yourself and others while at the restaurant:

  • Avoid the use of a valet service.
  • Wear a cloth face mask as much as possible when not eating or drinking.
  • Keep a distance of at least 6 feet from others at all times. That includes in hallways and waiting areas.
  • When possible, choose to sit outside.
  • Avoid self-serve food and drink options, like soda machines, salad bars or help-yourself condiments. This will limit your contact with shared buttons and utensils.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly when entering and exiting the restaurant. If soap and water aren't available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Use touchless pay options as much as possible. And bring your own pen to sign with if needed.

For more tips on staying safe during the pandemic, visit our Coronavirus topic center.

Reviewed 1/21/2021

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