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10 things to expect when restaurants reopen

Changes include more outdoor seating and masked servers.

Morgan Olsen
Written by
Morgan Olsen

Unless you live in a city where restaurants have already started reopening, you're probably wondering what dining out post-lockdown will look like. Though every city and state will handle safety regulations differently, there are some common threads we've noticed across the country as lawmakers sort out the details.

Diners can expect to see a slew of new social-distancing guidelines, including masked servers, spaced-out tables and possible temperature checks at the door. You might even encounter some high-tech additions to dining rooms, like digital menus and new ways to pay. Take a look at some of the most popular changes we're seeing to restaurants across the country—and remember to always check city-specific guidelines before dining out (it doesn't hurt to check the restaurant's website, too).

1. More outdoor dining

With summer on the horizon, many cities are exploring creative ways for restaurants to utilize and build out their outdoor spaces to safely accommodate guests. Illinois will allow patios to reopen ahead of indoor dining, while officials in New York City are encouraging restaurants to expand seating into sidewalks and streets.

2. Masked servers and staff

In states like Texas that have started to reopen, we're seeing officials recommend that restaurant employees mask up—yes, even the back-of-house folks. Officials in Texas also ask that restaurant workers are regularly screened and sent home if they're exhibiting any symptoms.

3. Mask requirements for you, too

Don't toss your mask just yet. Plenty of restaurants that have started to reopen are asking guests to don a face covering before and after their meal. That means you won't have to fuss with it when you're chowing down and sipping wine, but as soon as the table has been cleared, it's proper etiquette to put your mask back on. In some cases, restaurants have even started selling masks to guests who arrive without, so do yourself a favor and keep it in your back pocket.

4. Reservation-only dining

Most restaurants will reopen with limited capacity and reconfigured dining rooms to accommodate social distancing (more on that next), which means that reservations will be critical to minimize crowds and steady the flow of customers. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom and the state's Department of Public Health released new guidelines for full-service restaurants to follow upon reopening, including encouraging "reservations to allow for time to disinfect restaurant areas and provide guidance via digital platforms if possible to customers for physical distancing while at the restaurant."

5. Updated floor plans

Most lawmakers and health experts are in agreement that folks should maintain 6 feet of distance in restaurants and bars—and most public spaces, honestly. That doesn't mean that you and your dining companion will be seated 6 feet apart, but rather, the tables surrounding yours will be spaced more generously. Many restaurant owners are hoping for expanded outdoor seating to make up for lost tables and revenue.

6. Temperature checks at the door

Don't expect to see temperature checks everywhere, but also don't be alarmed if the bouncer outside your favorite rooftop bar wants to scan your temp when you're showing ID.

7. High-tech touches

Industry experts are encouraging restaurant owners to leverage tech to limit interactions, which could translate to you browsing a digital menu, placing your food order ahead of time or paying through your phone. On the flip side of that, we might also see some budget-friendly, old-school holdovers, like blackboard menus instead of the handheld variety.

8. Reduced capacity

Gone are the days of bustling, jam-packed dining rooms—at least for now. Most restaurants will open in phases, with 25 to 50 percent capacity up front, which will make many eateries feel a bit more quiet. All the more reason to tip your waitstaff generously.

9. Upfront cleanliness guidelines

Before lockdown, most of us didn't worry too much about restaurants' sanitation procedures—aside from measures like public-facing letter grading in cities like New York. But in the post-lockdown scene, restaurants will likely share these new and improved measures with their guests up front. Some might even send an email ahead of your dining experience, outlining what you can expect from them and what they expect from guests.

10. Continued takeout service

In most cases, reopening a restaurant isn't as easy as flipping a switch. With reduced dining room capacities, many hospitality industry pros say they'll continue offering takeout and delivery service to keep sales up and offer an alternative to folks who don't feel comfortable dining out just yet. Meal kits, creative carryout menus and to-go booze aren't going anywhere anytime soon.

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