For those who are vaccinated and more confidence to sit inside restaurants, but still a bit weary.
An interesting trend has developed over the past few weeks, with people who have been otherwise cautious about being exposed to the coronavirus beginning to dine indoors at restaurants. Much of this stems from more and more folks being fully vaccinated, but better COVID numbers are playing a role as well, along with the simple fact that people are simply tired of not being able to do what they used to do before the pandemic got going last March. And while indoor dining—when done right—does seem to be an increasingly reasonable option (especially for those who have gotten their shots), it may be a good idea to look into why the “new normal” needs to be treated as an actual new normal and not like the more carefree days of late 2019 and early 2020, including a brief recap of where we are right now.
Outdoor Dining Still Rules
Recent reports seem to have confirmed what many of us believed over the past year: that the virus is much less likely to be spread via touching surfaces (such as counters, doorknobs, chairs, and tables) than through the air. This means that dining outdoors is indeed a safer option than dining indoors, especially if the indoor spaces are crowded, have poor ventilation, or are the types of places where workers or customers don’t seem to take the pandemic seriously. And with the warmer weather now here, outdoor dining really is a no-brainer since the puffy coats, mittens, and winter hats can finally be ditched.
Takeout/Delivery Remains the Safest Option
Let’s face it—takeout and delivery fatigue is a real thing at this point, as going months without actually hanging out at a restaurant or bar has gotten very old, especially to those who love the social aspect of going out to eat. But picking up food or having it brought to your door is still a great way to avoid getting sick, in part because of what was mentioned above—that getting the virus via surfaces does not seem to be nearly as big a concern as getting it from people coughing, laughing, singing, or even talking. It may seem boring in some ways, but takeout/delivery remains the way to go if you have any concerns about getting (or spreading) the virus.
We Are Still in the Early Stages of the Vaccination Process
With each passing day, more and more people are now considered fully vaccinated, including the two-week (more or less) period after being done with the shots. But many more have only gotten one of two shots or none at all, and when you’re inside a crowded restaurant, you have no idea who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t. This may not seem like a huge concern to those who are done with the vaccination process, but we still don’t know for sure whether those who have gotten their shots can spread the virus to those who haven’t had them, so dining indoors can be a crapshoot in this respect.
So what’s a person to do when it comes to indoor dining right now? It all comes down to caution, common sense, and safe practices, including some of the same stuff that has been drilled into our heads for many months now. A few thoughts on what to consider:
Wear a mask indoors as much as possible
When the Baker administration first set up guidance and safety standards for restaurants late last spring, there was some initial confusion as to whether diners could take off their masks the minute they were seated or whether they had to wait until their food and drink arrived. This was eventually clarified to state that it was indeed the latter, though it hasn’t been enforced nearly as much as simply keeping your mask on until being seated. And now, with more and more people dining indoors, keeping masks on as much as possible remains important, which means that even with the new more lenient regulations in place, you probably shouldn’t remove them until that first round of drinks and appetizers are brought over. And if you need to hit the bathroom or go out for a smoke, definitely don’t forget your mask as you walk through the place.
Try Not to Dine Indoors With Strangers
Grabbing a table inside with family, friends, and loved ones who have all been vaccinated should be OK for the most part (depending on how busy the restaurant is—and more on in a bit), but if you’re back in the office and decide to have a meeting indoors at a dining spot with a client you barely know, or you’re invited to a gathering inside a restaurant with an acquaintance and their friends you’ve have never met, proceed with extreme caution. Much of this comes down to common sense, and if you’ve only gotten, say, one of two shots (or no shots) and decide to sit in a crowded eatery with people who have been God knows where and may not have gotten their shots, try to sway your cohorts to dine outdoors if at all possible.
Consider Going to Places That Aren’t Hotspots
It’s often fun going to a packed, dynamic restaurant or bar that everyone seems to be talking about, but perhaps this isn’t the right time to do so. There are plenty of dining spots out there whose indoor areas remain relatively quiet (and with tables well spaced out) even on weekends, so do some research, ask some friends, perhaps peek inside a place on a Saturday night, and talk to your fellow diners about their comfort levels when it comes to even just the possibility of crowds at a restaurant before heading to a place. And, of course, if the weather is nice, you can always opt to eat outside if your destination has a patio or deck.
Wait a Few Weeks
OK, so you may have heard this all the way back to late March of 2020 when many thought that the coronavirus outbreak would go away quickly, but now, holding off for just a bit longer may not be the worst strategy. By the time we get to late May or June, many more people will have gotten their shots, and the COVID numbers will have hopefully dropped even more by then, making it at least a bit safer to dine indoors. In the meantime, sitting on a patio is a great option and continues to get better as the weather gets nicer, so if you feel even a little hesitant about sitting in a dining room, outdoor dining may still be the way to go, and it helps the restaurants every bit as much as dining indoors (takeout/delivery less so, in part because you’re not buying rounds of drinks and/or additional appetizers, desserts, etc.).
Going through what we’ve gone through for over a year now has been incredibly frustrating, and restaurants have taken a bigger hit than nearly any other industry, but it really does feel like we’re so close to being back to at least a relative normalcy now. And indoor dining does seem to be an increasingly viable option even to the most cautious people, but once again, it all comes down to not taking unnecessary chances and remembering what the horrors of COVID-19 can bring to those who get it—and the untold stress to their families, friends, and loved ones. If you feel comfortable doing indoor dining, go for it, but do it while also considering the fact that the worst thing possible is to get the virus (or give it to someone you’re close to) when we’re so close to finally getting this thing under control.
Marc is the founder of @hiddenboston, a textbook editor, a hike leader for @AppMtnClub, and a food and travel writer and commenter for DigBoston, NBC/NECN, WBZ, WMFO and indie617.