Dining out during the pandemic has challenged nearly every rule about how to be in a restaurant for all of us. And while some cranky diners may have really lost their cool (this restaurant outside Chicago had to close for an employee “mental health day” last month because patrons were getting really nasty), you are probably trying to be the best guest you can be under admittedly challenging circumstances.
BUT! You may be using old “polite” practices that are in fact rude or even dangerous during COVID-19 season. Make sure you don’t fall prey to these 12 pandemic dining mistakes.
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1. Choosing your favorite restaurant for a special event
Yes, it’s wonderful to bring your business to the neighborhood Italian place. But a 10-person birthday party is a no-go. “It’s important to keep your group small, for your protection and the protection of others around you,” says Oscar del Rivero, chef and owner of Jaguar Restaurant in Miami. Check with your state’s regulations about the max number of people allowed per party, as some limit diners to no more than six per table.
2. Not bugging the staff with your full name when making a reservation
Early in the pandemic, patrons didn’t understand the importance of contract tracing required by the CDC or department of health and might omit their full names or contact information from reservations, says Brent Frederick, owner of Jester Concepts in Minneapolis. But now, it’s vital to let the restaurant know your whole name and how they can reach you if there is a COVID-related need.
3. Waiting for your table out of the way at the bar
“Diners used to sit at the bar and mingle and meet each other, and that’s pretty much gone due to COVID,” says Frederick. When it’s safe to do so, restaurants will bring that back, he says, but until then, keep your visit centered on dining.
4. Saving the host/hostess a task and seating yourself
A smile goes a long way, but even if you’re sweet about it, don’t walk in to seat yourself or be picky about where you’d like to sit. Restaurants are specifically spacing tables for safety and choosing your own can reduce that flow. (One exception: If you feel like you’re seated too close to another table and are worried about safety. Then, you have the go-ahead to speak up.)
5. Pulling down your mask so your server can hear you
It’s a challenge for everyone to get used to communicating with a mask, but your server will be able to understand you when you order while wearing one. (And if they can’t, they’ll simply ask you to repeat.) Out of courtesy for their safety, wear your mask—over your mouth and nose—every time you interact with a server and when you head to the bathroom.
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6. Telling your server you’re on a serious time crunch
Before COVID, giving your server the heads up you have to be outta there by a certain time is considerate, so they can adjust their service accordingly. Today, though, the most considerate thing might be planning a take-in-bake pizza if you’re on a tight schedule. “The service you received 9 months ago simply isn’t possible, says Katie Woodburn-Simmonds, blogger at The Plate Unknown. “Businesses are running at reduced staffing levels, have to observe physical distancing, and the way in which they are operating is completely new,” she says.
7. Letting everyone know your sneezes are “allergies”
If you’re sneezing up a storm, whether it be because of allergies or a cold, just stay home and order in. Diners don’t know if your sneezes or coughs are COVID-related or not, and it’s better to make sure everyone around you remains comfortable.
8. Ignoring when the restaurant gets your order wrong
It’s definitely not the time for diva-like behavior but suppressing simple requests that will make a real difference in your experience (“no tomatoes, please”) is not what the server and chef are asking of you. “We still want to take care of guests and are happy to accommodate any and all special requests,” says Jerrod Melman, executive partner at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Right now, one of the restaurant’s goals is to provide guests an escape from this crazy world, he says.
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9. Keeping kids device-free at the table
Now’s the time to break that “no iPad at the table rule” if it’s the best way to get the kids to stay put. (Mine go rogue all the time, so no shade here.) “We want kids to be kids, but you have to be mindful of the safety of others, and some guests may be skittish [with kids running close] who are already nervous about dining out,” says Greg Provance, owner of GP Hospitality Partners in San Diego.
10. Picking up your silverware from the floor
Speaking of kids: Your toddler threw one (or five) forks on the floor. Or you dropped one. Maintaining a sense of humor especially now, is key, says Melman. If you don’t feel comfortable picking it up or you just sanitized your hands, just tell your server and they’ll take care of it, he says.
11. Asking your server to handle boxing up your leftovers properly
It’s totally fine to take the rest of your food home, but some restaurants may ask you to box up your own leftovers to keep the experience low-touch, says Melman. They’ll bring you a to-go container. Follow their lead and take the extra DIY step.
12. Ordering an after-dinner drink or coffee to up your server’s tip
Before, you could hang out over coffee or an after-dinner drink. Today, reduced capacity means fewer tables can be seated at one time. So, get moving after finishing your meal. And don’t forget to put on your mask before you get up!
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