Doctors explain how to protect yourself from coronavirus while dining outdoors

Months into the coronavirus pandemic, people are still looking for ways to maintain some sense of normalcy through new norms of social distancing, mask-wearing and heightened awareness of their health. While outdoor dining has become a popular way to eat out across the country, there are still potential dangers to be wary of. But with a little vigilance and caution, you can learn how to safely dine outdoors during the pandemic.

Dr. Jen Caudle, a family physician and associate professor at Rowan University, tells Bustle that safe practices can begin before you even leave the house to go to a restaurant. "Before you come into the restaurant, call ahead to find out what procedures the restaurant is implementing so you can feel comfortable," she said. Learn what measures restaurants are taking to keep customers and employees safe. Is wearing a mask mandatory? Are customers being kept six feet apart? Is there a contactless menu? All of these factors can affect how safe you feel when dining out.

Then, when you arrive at a restaurant, Dr. Caudle says masks should be required, whether mandated or not. "You need to wear a mask the entire time you are in the restaurant except when you are eating," she said. Wear a mask even when ordering to protect yourself and your server from potential exposure.

Dr. Caudle explains that it's also a good idea to avoid touching things on your desk if possible. "You want to be very, very careful about reused items in restaurants," she said. "Are you touching up something that has been touched repeatedly, and how is the restaurant handling that?" Salt shakers, condiment dispensers and menus are often communal items, which means they can carry a lot of germs. If you must touch these items, try using a tissue. Or, as Dr. Caudle suggests, wash your hands before and after you actually start eating.

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Not only should you avoid using communal items, but you should also avoid sharing food. Rather than ordering an appetizer for the "table" that everyone must enjoy or reach for, it may be safer to order an individual appetizer for each person. If you absolutely must share, try using utensils rather than fingers, and always avoid double-dipping.

Also, be careful about who you go out to eat with. "I think it's safest to go out to eat with people who are in your bubble, which means people that you've known all along or have very, very similar social distancing practices to you," Dr. Caudle said. " "I still don't feel comfortable with the idea of ​​mixing because we know COVID-19 is still here and some cities have far more cases than others," Dr. Caudle advised, avoiding dining out with people who are not quarantining.

She also stressed that people should not linger after eating. "These are not pre-COVID days, so having a boozy three-hour brunch is probably not the best thing to do in this day and age," she said. "Don't stay longer than necessary."


Dr. Jen Caudle, DO, family physician, associate professor at Rowan University