Dining out? This UTA public health professor has tips on making it as safe as possible

A public health expert at The University of Texas at Arlington said she believes whether to dine out is a personal choice, but patrons should be thoroughly informed and carefully consider the risks involved.

“From a public health standpoint, dining establishments reopened before the scientific standards for reopenings were met,” said Erin Carlson, associate clinical professor and director of graduate public health programs in the College of Nursing and Health Innovation at UTA. “Reopening businesses is complicated and involves policy, economic and political decisions. But choosing to go into a restaurant is one that we personally make.”

Q: Should people dine out?
A: It’s a personal choice. Bars and restaurants are among the most difficult places to practice social distancing and sufficient hygiene. There’s no such thing as zero-risk when dining out. The best we can do is minimize the risk.

Q: If people choose to dine out, what should they look for in a restaurant?
A: Do your research before choosing the restaurant. It is OK to call and ask them about their safety protocols. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s restaurant guidelines, restaurants should:

  • Promote employee handwashing.
  • Require employees to wear face coverings.
  • Have a set-up that creates social distancing.
  • Screen employees for COVID, including temperature checks, every time they arrive for their shifts. 

Q: As a patron, what are some safety precautions I can take?
A: There are various things you can do to minimize risk:

  • If you see crowding, leave.
  • Look for large, well-ventilated, open environments, preferably outdoors.
  • Look for signage about maintaining social distancing, hand hygiene or other information that shows the restaurant is promoting safe practices.
  • Don't dine with anyone you don’t live with.
  • If you decide to dine with people who don’t live with you, avoid sharing food with them.
  • If you meet others at the restaurant who do not live with you, make sure you discuss with them expectations about keeping safe practices and distance while at the restaurant.
  • Bring wipes to sanitize salt and pepper shakers, silverware, chair arms, and table areas if there is not a tablecloth.
  • Make sure restaurants are using disposable or touchless menus and touchless payment options.
  • Don't wait in indoor waiting areas. Ideally, customers should be told to wait elsewhere and receive a text when their table is ready.
  • If you sit outside and the restaurant has fans, don’t sit downwind. 
  • Use a straw rather than putting your mouth directly on the glass.
  • Plan to avoid the restroom. Nothing aerosolizes germs as effectively as a flushing toilet.
  • Don’t linger. Eat and leave.

Q: Is there anything else patrons should keep in mind? 
A: Please remember that while these new safety protocols in restaurants may feel like they undermine the intimacy and socialization associated with restaurant dining, they are both temporary and worth it.

Source: excerpted from University of Texas at Arlington News Center, July 9, 2020