Is It Safe to Return to Restaurants?

April 30, 2020 - Katie McCallum

The Stay at Home orders put in place at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic transformed restaurant-goers into home chefs and takeout or delivery experts.

With businesses now reopened, you may be wondering if it's actually safe to return to restaurants.

First thing's first, public health officials continue to recommend taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including practicing social distancing and wearing a cloth face mask — both of which are challenging to do while eating at a restaurant.

The decision to dine out or at home is ultimately yours, but we can help you understand the risks and provide tips if you do decide to dine out.

Consider continuing to take extra precautions if you're high risk

Anyone can become infected with the new coronavirus. And while most people experience only mild illness, some people are vulnerable to developing severe COVID-19 symptoms or complications.

Given that the new coronavirus will continue to be with us for some time, people who are at higher risk may want to continue to take extra precautions, even as restrictions begin to ease. Keep in mind that while eating at a restaurant, you won't be able to wear a mask and will likely come into close contact with your server a few times, at the very least.

In addition, if you live with or care for someone who is high risk, or are an essential employee at work, you should also continue to take measured steps to prevent getting, and potentially spreading, COVID-19. It's a decision each person will have to make on his or her own, but it may include forgoing dining at restaurants for now.

When in doubt, choose takeout

Even if you're healthy and experiencing no symptoms, maintaining social distancing and wearing a cloth face mask in public will remain important for quite some time. In addition, restaurant dining rooms are opening at a limited capacity in most communities. For instance, Houston restaurants are limited to 25% of their customer occupancy at this time.

As an alternative to dining at a restaurant, consider continuing to order your food to go more often than not. If you pick up food yourself, avoid touching your face and be sure to wash your hands after. If you have food delivered, ask about "no contact delivery" — which may help reduce your chance of getting sick.

As always, wash your hands before eating, and — given what we know about how long coronavirus can survive on surfaces — consider throwing food packaging away immediately and disinfecting your kitchen counters.

Wash your hands and avoid touching your face

If you do decide to dine out, be sure to practice proper hand washing — which may have more steps than you think. In addition, you may want to carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer so you can disinfect your hands after touching door knobs, the pen and booklet used to present your check, as well as other high-touch surfaces.

As always, be sure to wash your hands:

  • Before eating
  • Before and after using the bathroom
  • After eating


You'll also want to avoid touching your face. In particular, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth — three of the main ways respiratory viruses like the new coronavirus enter the body.

Stay at home if you're sick

As always, and especially now, it's recommended that you avoid leaving your home as much as possible if you're ill. This can help prevent the spread of any respiratory infection, including COVID-19.

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath


Even if your symptoms are mild, please stay home. While you may only have mild illness, others are at risk for developing a more severe, potentially life-threatening case of COVID-19.


Concerned you may have COVID-19?

  • If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider 24/7. The provider will help you determine if testing is needed and advise you on where you should go.


This article was updated on December 9, 2020 to reflect the current state of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.

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