Can You Dine Out and Still Be Safe?

Restaurant dining used to be a routine affair, but many now dread the thought of chowing down in a roomful of bare-faced strangers.

So as state-level lockdowns wax and wane, how safe is it to dine at your favorite restaurant?

There’s some risk, but with proper precautions you should be able to enjoy your meal with a reduced risk of exposure to the coronavirus, experts say.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would prefer that you order takeout or delivery, as that remains the safest way to minimize your exposure to other folks.

But if you’re going stir-crazy and need to get out, your next safest option is to pick a restaurant with an outdoor dining area, said Dr. Leonard Mermel, medical director of epidemiology and infection control at Rhode Island Hospital in Providence.

Everyone has to remove their mask to eat their meal, and if you’re indoors at a poorly ventilated restaurant you’ll be at greater risk of breathing in coronavirus that’s been exhaled by a sick person, Mermel said.

“Outdoors, if someone’s coughing it’s going to be quickly diluted in the body of air outside, let’s say with a light breeze,” Mermel said. “Outdoor eating is generally safer than indoor eating for that reason.”

You also might ask about the restaurant’s sick leave policy and insurance coverage before making a reservation, Mermel added. You’re more likely to be served by a healthy person if the restaurant pays workers to stay home when they’re ill.

“There’s a push/pull of people who say, ‘Oh, I feel a little crummy, I’ve just got a little cough, I’m going to go into work because otherwise I’m not going to get paid.’ That’s a problem when you’re someone who’s going to have contact with a lot of other people, particularly if those people aren’t masked such as people eating in a restaurant,” Mermel said.

Indoors or outdoors, you should make sure that the tables are at least 6 feet apart, the CDC says.