dining safely outside

“A bottle of white, a bottle of red… Perhaps a bottle of rose instead

We’ll get a table near the street

In our old familiar place

You and I, face to face”

Remember this famous chorus from Billy Joel’s popular song, Scenes from an Italian Restaurant? Billy may have to edit his lyrics a bit in the time of Coronavirus to “You and I, six feet apart and face mask to face mask.”

Westchester County, Fairfield County and Nassau County have moved to the next Phase of reopening local businesses including restaurants.

And so we wonder, is it really safe for seniors to be dining out?

Experts across the board say that to make the most responsible decision, you’ll have to consider many factors. Do you or your loved one have underlying issues that could mean the virus is more likely be more serious? Do you live with someone who has underlying issues and you need to protect them?

Here is what you should know before dining at your favorite local restaurant again:

(1) Search the restaurant’s website and social media for their Covid-19 safety guidelines or call ahead and ask. If the restaurant website or their social media does not mention Covid-19 or the coronavirus, that might give you a head’s up that they are not paying enough attention to the guidelines or taking them seriously.

“It’s nice to return to a small amount of normalcy, but we are also working very hard to ensure a safe experience for everyone and have added a new link to safety information on our website,” said Brian Doyle and Nick Bell, owners of JP Doyle’s Restaurant in Sleepy Hollow.

(2) Wash your hands before you leave your home. If you made a stop along the way, wash your hands again at the restaurant making sure to use a tissue or paper towel to open the door when you leave the bathroom. Make sure there is soap and clean paper towels when you enter the bathroom so you are not stuck without.

(3) Continue to social distance. Restaurants should have their tables at least six to ten feet apart. In addition, for your own safety and for the safety of an elderly loved one, try your best to stay at least six feet apart at all times from people who do not live with you.

(4) Restaurant servers must be wearing masks. While not attractive or adding to an elegant dining ambiance, wearing a mask has been shown to be effective from spreading the virus. With a senior, always opt to wear your mask with them and remove it when the meal arrives. Different types of masks offer different levels of protection. While surgical grade N95 respirators offer the highest level of protection against Covid-19 infection, these masks are costly, in limited supply, contribute to landfill waste and are uncomfortable to wear for long periods. There are many mask options available now that are comfortable to wear.

(5) Only dine outside. For now, even if inside seating is available, only dine outside. Restaurants have put up tents and added additional seating, often in parking lots (See photo above of Rye Grill and Bar in Rye). Do not dine inside even if tables are separated by plexiglass – it’s been shown that recycled air from an indoor air-conditioner can spread the virus. A study in China revealed how nine people sitting near one another at a restaurant were infected with COVID-19, and that it likely spread from the restaurant’s air-conditioner, blowing viral droplets from one person who was asymptomatic farther than they might have normally gone.

(6) Don’t eat at a restaurants’ peak times. Be safer by dining when it is less crowded. Enjoy an early 11am lunch, which also means the restaurant will be less crowded and the service will probably be faster.

(7) Make confirmed reservations ahead by phone or online so you’re not waiting outside with large groups of people. Many tables in outdoor spaces usually only seat two or four, but now there will be larger parties of five or six that are more difficult to seat outside.

(8) If you’re with an elderly parent or friend, help them order. Suggest one or two meal choices that you know they like, read certain parts of the menu to them, or point out one or two pictures. And don’t let them touch a menu that has been touched by others.

“Develop a safe plan for learning menu options. Is the menu online? Review in advance, know what you are ordering before you go. Is the menu contact-less? Or printed on a piece a paper for single use? Perhaps a staff member can recommend a particular dish that would be appealing,” said Susan Keating, CMC, Founder/President of Honora Care Management & Consulting in Westchester.

(9) Keep the outing short. Older adults with dementia typically become tired easily. Keeping a restaurant outing brief helps avoid any issues caused by becoming overtired. That might mean skipping the appetizer or taking dessert to go and sticking to entrees that don’t take long for the kitchen to prepare.

(10) Avoid self-serve food and drink options and any type of buffet or self-serve salad bar so that you don’t have to touch shared items.

(11) Bring helpful dining and bathroom items. That might include:
Special utensils, dishware, or a cup
Towel or moist wipes
Extra sweater in case it gets cold outside
Any items needed in the bathroom

(12) Be considerate to everyone. Know when it is time to stay home, especially if you personally are sick or have been exposed to the virus within the past 14 days. Think about those who are more at risk of severe complications and death from Covid-19.

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