A: It’s probably safe for you as a diner. But also consider if it’s safe for kitchen crew and wait staff.
Several Nerdy Girls live in Philadelphia, where restaurants were allowed to resume outdoor or sidewalk service as of Friday night. One of us (Alison) was interviewed by a local magazine about the safety of outdoor dining. Here’s what she said (link to full story below):
1. If your primary concern is your own individual risk of contracting COVID-19, outdoor dining is definitely better than being indoors. Tables will be spaced 6’+ apart, and wait staff will be masked. Restaurants will be following new hygiene protocols. All good!
2. On the other hand, you will obviously not be masked while you eat, and if it’s a particularly lengthy meal, you could spend a fair amount of time in close-ish proximity to wait staff, other diners, and passersby. Here’s where you have to rely on your Spidey Sense and your own risk tolerance to assess whether any particular setting feels ok or not.
3. As we’ve said in many other posts about surfaces and take-out food: Rigorous, frequent handwashing or hand sanitizing is your best defense here. COVID-19 is not foodborne, so you don’t have to worry about contaminated food. Restaurants will be following detailed guidelines about wiping down tables and chairs between parties, eliminating “presets” on the table (like salt and pepper shakers or napkin dispensers), using disposable paper menus or chalkboards instead of reusable menus, and adding extra cleaning to high-touch surfaces and bathrooms. So, you shouldn’t come into contact with items used recently by another customer without its having been cleaned first. But wash those hands!
4. You might be worried about the safety of wait staff and kitchen crew. We are, too. Wait staff are exposed to multiple unmasked customers during a shift, and the kitchen crew is likely working in tight quarters in a damp kitchen. It’s ok to ask the manager or owner what policies and procedures they have put in place to maximize worker safety. What might those be? 3 things restaurants can do:
* Schedule staff in fixed crews that don’t mix.
* Provide multiple clean dry masks per shift
* Encourage & enable workers to stay home if sick without risking their paycheck and job.
We know these things cost money, and restaurants have been particularly hard hit during stay-at-home and lockdown. But you can signal to restaurant owners that you take worker safety seriously and will keep coming back to the places that do so also.
5. Finally, remember that *you* might be a disease vector! Many folks in Philly and across the country have been at large protests in the past couple of weeks. If that includes you, or if you’ve had another possible exposure or aren’t feeling well, please quarantine for 2 weeks and/or get tested before hitting your favorite bistro, taqueria, or dim sum house!