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One of life’s simplest pleasures is going out to eat, but dining looks different today than it did just a few months ago due to the coronavirus pandemic. With new normals of life, there are also new rules of etiquette that apply during this time. To find out how to eat out properly right now, we consulted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for health and safety guidelines as well as the classic etiquette experts at Emily Post so you can be polite and be prepared for a nice meal out.
While states have been reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic, the No. 1 rule that the CDC recommends is that you stay home if you’re not feeling well. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue and a recent loss of taste or smell. Because so much of etiquette is about being considerate of those around you, staying home if you’re sick is proper behavior.
If you know what to expect when entering a restaurant or bar, you'll know how to conduct yourself. The CDC recommends calling before you go so that you can find out what preventative measures the establishment is taking. Calling ahead also may allow you to make a reservation, which is polite to do, as it can help prevent crowding in a common waiting area.
Some states have more coronavirus restrictions than others. If your city, county or state has declared a face mask mandate, earlier closing time for restaurants and bars, or a requirement that one must order food along with an alcoholic beverage, follow those regulations. A mask mandate, for instance, may not have been made by a restaurant manager, so don’t hassle the staff for something out of their control.
There is an increasing number of chains that require guests to wear face masks, including Starbucks, McDonald’s and Olive Garden. Some restaurants also may require you to have parties of a certain size, ask you to wait in your car until your table is ready or have you bus your own table. Proper etiquette dictates following the rules of the private business you are in.
It’s important to remember to wear a face mask when out in public, and it’s even more important that you know how to wear a face covering properly. It should cover your nose and mouth and be secured tightly behind your ears or around your head. The CDC recommends people wear masks in public settings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. When at a restaurant, that means wearing one when walking through common areas and when getting up to use the restroom. It’s OK to remove your mask when eating or drinking at your table.
There are certainly some pain points when it comes to visiting reopened bars and restaurants amid the pandemic. If you have to wait longer for your table than stated, if service is a little slow or if anything else is different or delayed, it’s important to be patient and realize restaurants, employees and diners are all adjusting to a new normal.
In addition to exercising patience, the No. 1 rule of etiquette is to exercise compassion and understanding. Among the many ways restaurants have changed during the pandemic, your favorite booth may be unavailable, the menu may be limited and some experiences, such as live entertainment or free popcorn, may be cut. If this happens to you, show that compassion and realize that your favorite menu item is likely to come back someday.
Typically, it would be a rude habit to allow a door to shut when someone else is approaching. But during the coronavirus pandemic, your safety and the safety of those around you is more important than being polite.
Some restaurants have been practicing social distancing in truly unique ways. But you should practice social distancing too. Pay attention to any markers on the floor that designate where you should stand. Try to keep 6 feet away from other people and parties whenever possible.
If there are arrows indicating what direction you should go to get to your table, how to approach the bar or where to find the restroom, follow those directions — they are for your safety and the safety of those around you.
It can be tempting to want to tell a fellow diner that they are wearing their face mask as a chin strap or want to shout out loud that the markers on the floor mean to stay 6 feet away, but you never know how another person is going to react. If you see someone breaking the rules, find a manager and have them address it, if need be. If you feel the need to say something, try to do so with an upbeat tone.
Forgetting to say “please” or “thank you” is already one of the worst etiquette mistakes you can make, period. These small, polite phrases are particularly meaningful now.
Sure, you’re eating at a restaurant during a pandemic, but you are still eating at a restaurant. Standard rules of dining etiquette still apply. That means your napkin goes in your lap, you chew with your mouth closed and you should hold that single-use, plastic wine glass by its stem.
The public restroom can feel like a minefield even when there is no global health crisis. In addition to remembering classic health tips — like the fact that air dryers are not especially sanitary — Harvard Health recommends wearing a mask and glasses if possible, washing your hands before and after using the bathroom and using your foot, toilet paper or a paper towel for high-touch surfaces such as a door handle or toilet handle. Follow other rules and regulations as well, including capacity limits and social distancing.
If possible, use touchless payment methods, which mean you don’t need to use a keypad, paper money or a credit card. Contactless payment methods include Apple Pay, Android Pay, Samsung Pay and EMV chip cards. This hygienic practice helps protect you and your server.
It’s not always easy to know how to tip when dining out, especially how much to tip during the coronavirus pandemic. A general rule of thumb is to start by tipping either 20% or $5, whichever is the higher amount. If you had exceptionally good service, feel free to tip more than usual during these times to support the staff.
Lingering over that last bite of lava cake or those final few sips of your beer is a great part of socializing while dining out, but now you should try to keep your visit short. Dining out is not an activity without risk, and the longer you stay, the bigger the risk.
You may want to get out of the house and support local businesses by dining at restaurants or drinking at bars in your area. Other people may not be as comfortable doing that. Both approaches are OK, as long as you are safe in how you conduct yourself. But one thing you should never do? Shame someone else for their behavior, whether it’s a fellow diner, Facebook friend or even a family member.
Safety comes before etiquette. While it’s more polite to be patient and to adjust your own behavior instead of correcting others, if you’re not sure whether or not the restaurant you’re visiting is safe, leave, even if you have a reservation. And it’s good to speak up when you’re uncomfortable. Being safe is always going to be paramount, and that’s just the first of many new etiquette rules you need to know amid the coronavirus pandemic.
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