Woman and man wearing masks in a restaurant

Marylanders are wondering if it's safe to eat out at restaurants during the coronavirus pandemic. Going out to eat is a refreshing change-of-pace after quarantine.

It can create a sense of normalcy, all while supporting local businesses. However, you will still need to take steps to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus.

Is It Safe to Go Out to Eat?

You can eat out safely during the coronavirus pandemic. However, until there is a coronavirus vaccine, leaving home and being in close proximity to others — whether you're going out to eat or going to the grocery store — will never be 100 percent safe.

Restaurant Safety

Restaurants must follow rules outlined by the state of Maryland in order to reopen. These include:

  • Putting at least six feet between tables to allow customers to practice social distancing
  • Requiring all staff to wear face masks
  • Seating people indoors at no more than 50 percent of the restaurant's maximum capacity
  • Avoiding serving food buffet style
  • Properly disinfecting shared surfaces, such as tables and chairs, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines

These regulations may vary, depending on the county that you live in.

Going out to eat might not be the same as it was a few months ago, but all of these precautions are necessary for keeping yourself and others safe.

Personal Safety

Going out to eat during the coronavirus pandemic is not right for everyone. Some people might not feel comfortable going to a restaurant yet.

Other people may be vulnerable to severe illness from coronavirus, including older adults, immunocompromised individuals and those with underlying health conditions. High-risk individuals should continue to stay home as much as possible.

Safety Tips for Eating Out During the Pandemic

Here are a few tips to keep in mind for staying safe if you go out to eat during the coronavirus pandemic.

Don't Go Out if You're Sick

Stay home if you feel sick. Before you go out to eat, check your temperature. If you're running a fever, don't go out. If you go out while feeling sick, you could transmit the virus to others.

If you have tested positive for coronavirus, have been exposed to someone with the virus or have coronavirus symptoms, you should also stay home.

Self-quarantine in your home until you have received a negative coronavirus test and show no symptoms. Most mild cases of coronavirus can be treated at home.

There are numerous next steps you can take if you think you have the virus, depending on your symptoms and health situation.

Call Ahead

Before you go out to eat, consider calling the restaurant to ask questions, such as:

  • Do they offer both indoor and outdoor seating?
  • How are they disinfecting shared objects and surfaces?
  • How are they enforcing physical distance between people and tables? Are they using signage, physical barriers or some other means?
  • Do they have separate entrances and exits to help facilitate social distancing?
  • How are they screening staff for infection? Are they encouraging staff members to stay home if they feel ill or have had close contact with an infected person?

Getting these questions answered before you go out to eat will help you understand what the restaurant will be like and how to navigate it safely.

Consider Eating Outdoors

This coronavirus is still relatively new, and there is still a lot that the world doesn't know about it. How it behaves indoors, particularly in ventilation systems, is still being studied.

When it comes to getting food at a restaurant, the CDC, based on current scientific evidence, considers:

  • Ordering takeout the least risky
  • Outdoor dining to be a lower risk than indoor dining

Eating inside or outside is a personal decision and must be made with your personal health situation in mind. If you are concerned, dining al fresco may be the best option. If you decide to dine indoors, it is better to have as much outdoor air circulating as possible, such as an open window or door.

Continue Physical Distancing

Just because you're ready to go out to eat doesn't mean you shouldn't continue to stay at least six feet apart from others at all times.

Try to avoid eating out with people who don't live with you, but, if you choose to, ensure that you are sitting at least six feet away and from one another.

Wear a Mask

Wearing a face mask is one of the best things you can do to prevent the spread of coronavirus, including when you go out to eat. When possible, wear your face covering when you're not eating or drinking.

This is especially true if you find yourself in a situation where maintaining six feet of distance is difficult or impossible, such as a hallway. According to Maryland regulations, all restaurant staff should be wearing a face mask at all times.

Avoid High-Touch Surfaces

When you can, try not to come into contact with high-touch surfaces that could be at higher risk of carrying the virus. Try to avoid:

  • Food or drink options that are shared, self-serve or have shared utensils
  • Touching doorknobs or handles, whenever possible
  • Touch-screen payment systems and pens (bring your own pen)
  • Having your cell phone, which often touches your face, out at the table

If you can't wash your hands after touching shared surfaces, consider bringing a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol to help clean them.

Be Vigilant in the Restroom

The restroom is a hot spot for the spread of infectious diseases, including novel coronavirus. Washing your hands properly is an important part of preventing coronavirus infection, especially when using the restroom.

Before using the restroom, ensure that everything you need is readily available to you, including soap, toilet paper and paper towels. It's also important to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer when entering and exiting the restaurant, whether you have used the restroom or not.

Opt Out of Valet Service

While valet parking is a nice offering, it may be better to skip it during the pandemic. Limiting close contact with others whenever possible makes a big difference when it comes to lowering your risk of contracting coronavirus. If you're not sure where to park, ask the restaurant if they have self-service parking available.