Restaurants have suffered as a result of lockdown restrictions. Picture: Helene Lopes/Pexels
Restaurants have suffered as a result of lockdown restrictions. Picture: Helene Lopes/Pexels

Restaurant etiquette: 9 things to keep in mind when dining out during the pandemic

By Lutho Pasiya Time of article published Feb 24, 2021

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We have seen how severe the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been on many industries, particularly the hospitality trade.

Restaurants have been so affected that many have been forced to shut down completely. Even though restaurants are now open and able to serve their patrons, there is still a limit on the number of patrons a restaurant can accommodate, which has an impact on the bottom-line.

There are also patrons who are wary of going to restaurants, mainly because they feel their health can be endangered. I remember a time in 2020 when I dressed up, put on my mask, and went out for dinner with a friend at a restaurant to relive the experience of dining out during lockdown, first-hand.

As we entered the restaurant, we were greeted by one of the waitresses who gave us a sanitiser and conducted a screening questionnaire where we had to detail our names, contact numbers, temperature reading and whether we were showing any symptoms of coronavirus.

It was a quiet afternoon with all diners seated a safe distance apart. Seated there, I could only wonder how good dining out is going to feel post the coronavirus. But 2021 has brought with it the realisation that things are not going to snap back to normal. So how do we resume our old habits while navigating new circumstances?

The food and beverage manager at the Radisson Hotel & Convention Centre in Johannesburg, Stacey Peter, has the tips.

“We’re currently in a stage of transition. Many people want to go out. It is also important as it supports the economy. However, the reality is that going out the way that we used to is just not an option. There are a few more variables involved and it’s important that we nail them. Now is the time to put safety first. However, there is no reason why you cannot enjoy a good meal and a glass of wine so long as you take these etiquette tips in mind,” she said.

Here are Peter’s tips for how to responsibly enjoy a meal out in 2021.

Do your research

Instead of wandering into the nearest restaurant with an open sign in the window, spend some time online exploring your options. We live in an age where reviews can tell you exactly what to expect. Look out for feedback that mentions safety protocols and how well they are executed. It is also a good idea to check if there is an option for outdoor seating for extra ventilation.

Set the date

Once you have chosen a restaurant with a great menu and strong protocols, call or email to make a booking. While this might seem formal, it is actually a great way to help restaurants control their numbers and plan staffing in advance. Calling also offers another opportunity to inquire about protocols, dietary options and closing times. With the new curfew in place, it is a good idea to confirm what time the establishment will be closing to ensure you have enough time to enjoy your visit. It is also thoughtful as restaurant staff members need to be able to lock up, clean and get home safely within curfew hours.

On arrival

Keep your mask on as you enter the restaurant. This is a good time to check out the protocols in action. How are the ventilation, table spacing and cleanliness? Until recently, restaurants had to ask customers to sign in, but this is no longer a requirement. However, there should be sanitising stations on your way to your table so be sure to use them.

When to take your mask off (and when to keep it on)

There is a lot of confusion around this aspect of going out. Masks can be removed once you are seated at your table. However, if you feel safer keeping them on, feel free to do so. You do not need to replace your mask when ordering but make sure your waiter keeps a safe distance. Many times, customers forget they need to wear masks whenever they get up from the table. Whether you are going to the bathroom or selecting food from a buffet, you need to have your mask on.

Sanitising - whose responsibility is it?

The restaurant has a responsibility to keep customers and staff safe. Daily routines include sanitising condiments, salt, and pepper dispensers and disinfecting surfaces. There are also specific items that restaurants should sanitise after each use. These include tables, menus and payment speed points. A well-known restaurant will be fully prepared and aware of the relevant protocols. Feel free to ask your waiter about them.

Is my cutlery clean?

Cutlery is only germ-free when a kitchen uses 70 degrees temperature water and a chlorine-based cleaning agent after each usage. They should already be doing this, but we recommend asking if you feel unsure.

How do I pay?

While most facilities do still accept cash, I recommend contactless means of payment like card and tap. Remember to sanitise your hands after dealing with payments. The waiter should do the same with the card machine.

When to leave?

Although going out is fun, social, and vital to the economy, it should never jeopardise your safety. We recommend leaving a restaurant if there are no signs of sanitising stations, the facility is overcrowded and masks are not being worn.

Afterwards?

Once you have finished your meal and settled the bill, leave the restaurant with your mask on. Remember to sanitise on your way out. When you have a moment, write a review on your experience to help others to choose wisely. Mention the protocols and any high or lows of the experience.

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