When Will Eating Out Feel Safe for You?


When it comes to eating out, diners are beginning to get more options as states make plans to allow restaurants to reopen dining rooms.

For the last two months, what eating out looked like to me was ordering a meal from DoorDash.

The last time I set foot inside a restaurant (other than for just a pickup) had to be the week before St. Patrick’s Day. Since then, I avoided restaurant dining rooms. Quickly enough, the governor made that decision for me, ordering restaurants to close their dining rooms.

I’d be making an understatement to suggest COVID-19-related shutdowns have hit people and businesses hard. Political leaders feel the pressure from angry voters (who stay perpetually angry about something anyway) to reopen everything.

Some fear the desire to reopen will come at the health and safety of others. Some fear a new spike in COVID-19 cases.

Others, of course, fear financial ruin if those closed businesses don’t get the chance to reopen their doors.

Those decisions will be made for us, too, when businesses received the official all-clear.

Some municipalities, including my home base of Charleston, will consider turning suggested precautions into legal requirements. A vote could create an ordinance that would force restaurants to follow a variety of rules or face fines. Those rules might include:

  • Capping the maximum number of people who can dine, even if the restaurant is only open for outdoor dining.
  • Requiring restaurant staffers to clean the area after every group leaves.
  • Allowing a maximum number of people per table and a minimum distance between tables.
  • Requiring restaurants to require paper menus rather than more permanent laminated menus.
  • Requiring all employees to wear masks.

Any or all of those precautions may be the right thing to do given concerns about a possible second wave of COVID-19 cases.

But it leads to an unavoidable question.

When will eating out actually feel safe again?

To the extent that it ever really felt completely safe, that is. There were always threats of some type of violence or the possibility of food poisoning.

But since the pandemic, maybe we now look around and watch those sharing an eating area with a bit more suspicion, especially the first time we hear a sneeze.

I’ve been working from home since St. Patrick’s Day. And for the past few weeks, I’ve used DoorDash to order meals when I didn’t feel like cooking. (I’ve been to the grocery store a few times to stock up on food. Other than that, I’ve stayed home.)

I’d never used DoorDash before the pandemic. I’m glad I finally did.

I’m happy to support local restaurants as best I can. I’m already hearing about a handful that won’t be able to reopen because of financial losses they’ve already experienced.

That’s a shame. It’s not the outcome anyone would want.

But neither is coming down with COVID-19. And there’s a good chance of more cases once restrictions are lifted and people decided to relax those precautions.

I don’t know when I’ll be ready to eat at a restaurant. I don’t anticipate it being anytime soon. I’m told my workplace wants us to continue working from home at least through the end of May and possibly beyond that.

If it’s not safe enough for us to go to work with people we know, I can’t imagine feeling safe in a room with people I don’t know.

I’d like to think that maybe by the fall I’ll be ready to have a meal inside a restaurant dining room.

I miss that, even though most of the time, I’m dining alone.

But safety has to come first. And that’s up to us.

When do you think you’ll be ready to sit down inside a restaurant again?

Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.