Restaurants are open again, at least in many places, but they're not quite like the restaurants back in the old days—say four or five months ago. They have fewer customers, for one thing, due to social distancing rules that no longer allow diners to crowd together. In many cases, they also have more outdoor seating, at least while the weather holds up—on socially distanced patios or terraces if they have them, or on adjacent sidewalks, parking lots, or closed-off streets.
They're also liable to have shorter and probably simpler menus, reflecting the smaller kitchen staffs necessitated by reduced income. And servers will almost certainly be wearing masks and possibly gloves, giving dining rooms at least a bit of a hospital-ward feeling.
Notwithstanding these differences (which are only temporary, we can hope), there's still something wonderful about going out to dine. Call it a sense of newfound freedom; call it optimism; just don't call us late for dinner.
Because restaurants have changed, though, so has restaurant etiquette. Here are ten rules to remember when you eat out in the coronavirus era.
1. Make a reservation
Many restaurants require them anyway, but even if it's not a stated policy, it's the right thing to do. It's vital for restaurants to fill every available seat while not exceeding state or local guidelines. Knowing who's coming, and when, will help them survive.
2. Show up on time
See above. Once you've made a reservation, be sure to honor it. If you're going to be delayed, call the restaurant to let them know.
3. Wear a mask and keep your distance
You obviously can't eat and drink with a swatch of cloth over your nose and mouth, and anyway, regulations vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Regardless of what's required, though, wear a mask when you arrive and leave and while you're walking to and from your table. This isn't an infringement on your inalienable rights; it's an expression of concern for your fellow diners
4. Keep your distance
Stay at least six feet from anyone not in your immediate party. No table-hopping. No crowding up to the bar. This is especially important inside. As with mask-wearing, this is just a matter of showing respect for the health of others.
5. Try to order everything at once
In restaurants serving outdoors, servers need to travel longer distances than usual to and from the bar or kitchen. The fewer trips they have to make, the better they can do their job.
6. Don't expect perfect service
Waiting tables under present circumstances is a new experience for the staff, and there will inevitably be some wrinkles. Cut your server some slack.
7. Keep the kids at the table
Children are naturally rambunctious, and are likely to be even more so on a rare trip out in public after having been cooped up at home for months. Curbing their understandable desire for a little freedom of movement is important, though, for their health and safely and that of others.
8. Relax, have a good time, smile
Yes, there are basic guidelines we should follow in restaurants these days. And, yes, the dining experience isn't what it used to be. But sitting at a table enjoying good things to eat and drink, in good company, is still one of life's great pleasures, and we should enjoy it gratefully.
9. Don't linger
Relax, yes, but not for too long. Restaurants need frequent turnover of tables if they're going to have a chance. Nobody's saying that you have to eat and run—but don't sit and chat for hours over coffee and a shared dessert. Give someone else a chance.
10. Tip generously
Servers are potentially imperiling their own health daily by working the dining room. Paid far below the minimum wage, they depend on tips for their livelihood—and if their restaurant is operating at only 20 or 30 percent capacity, that cuts their income by 70 or 80 percent. And yet they carry on. Show your appreciation. In these troubled times, 20 to 25 percent should be an absolute minimum. Tip more if you can afford it.