Dining indoors during COVID-19, safely-ish

Here’s everything you need to know about eating at restaurants during the pandemic. Because despite CDC recommendations, we know you’ll do it anyway, so you might as well be safe about it.


Jake Capriotti

The Smith continues to be a popular dinner spot for NYU students. New mandates and recommendations have changed the way you can expect to dine in the city. (Staff Photo by Jake Capriotti)

Gabby Lozano, Dining Editor

After nearly a year and a half of being stuck at home, most diners are eager to hit the streets again to experience the comforting thrill of eating at a restaurant. As more and more people receive vaccinations, many NYU students are beginning to lower their guard and enjoy meals outside of their dorms with people who aren’t their roommates. 

But despite this progress, the recent delta variant surge has caused the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reverse their guidelines for dining at restaurants. As of August, the CDC labeled indoor dining as the highest-risk activity and outdoor dining as riskier than takeout, delivery or curbside pickup. 

But let’s be real here: given the energy surrounding the city’s food scene and an urge to regain some sense of normalcy, it’s inevitable that some people are not going to follow these guidelines. 

Below is a list of recommendations for protecting yourself and others when dining at a restaurant. The choice is ultimately yours. But if you are going to eat at a restaurant, at least be aware of the precautions you should take to create a safe environment.

Show proof of your vaccination status if you want to eat indoors

New York City requires individuals ages 12 and up to show proof of vaccination if they want to participate in indoor activities. Vaccinated individuals can show proof of vaccination with their physical CDC vaccination card, a New York vaccination record, or by downloading the NYC Covid Safe or Excelsior Pass apps. And no, a picture on your phone does not count. Unvaccinated people are eligible to eat outdoors, but it’s worth noting that some restaurants might require proof of vaccination regardless of where you’re seated. 

Wear your mask

If we’ve learned anything from the delta variant, it’s that being vaccinated doesn’t make you immune from contracting and spreading COVID-19. While New York City guidelines require individuals dining outdoors to show proof of vaccination, some will allow unvaccinated people to eat outdoors. As you may or may not know by now, unvaccinated people pose the greatest risk of becoming infected and spreading the virus. In order to minimize this risk, some experts recommend wearing a mask when you’re not at a table or when speaking with a server. Not only does this help protect you from getting infected, but it also shows courtesy to the restaurant staff, who might live or interact with unvaccinated individuals.

On a separate note, it might help to wear a mask on the way to the restaurant. According to data from the CDC, New York City lies within counties with high transmission rates. Additionally, vaccination rates vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, so it may be safer to keep the mask on until you sit at the table.

Eat outdoors when you can 

At the beginning of the pandemic, many restaurants took to the streets to serve guests after experts warned that the air circulation might cause the virus to spread more quickly indoors than outdoors. So take this opportunity to experience the fall breeze and sit outdoors. Don’t like the breeze? Then bring a jacket. However, not all restaurants have outdoor seating available, so if you have to eat indoors then keep in mind the risks that come with it. 

Wash your hands

It pains me to write this, but given that nearly 1 in 4 Americans weren’t washing their hands regularly prior to the pandemic, so I have no choice but to say: WASH YOUR HANDS. Hand sanitizer is not as effective as the good old soap and water, especially when you have access to a restroom. And don’t just wash your hands before your food comes. Do it the moment you sit down. I mean, think about it: do you know how grimy this city is? Imagine all the people who’ve ridden the subway, touched the door handles or even that menu you’re holding. Sometimes it’s best not to know, so you might as well excuse yourself and go WASH YOUR HANDS. 

From the cronut to corn dogs, there’s nothing like the eclectic, aromatic atmosphere of New York City’s dining scene. We’re all ready to eat at restaurants again, but keep in mind that COVID-19 is still out there. In the meantime, make sure to act responsibly — not for yourself, but rather for others whose circumstances differ from yours. And remember, if you’re feeling a little under the weather or you’ve come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, then please stay home. One more night of takeout won’t kill you, but dining out while infected could kill someone else.

Contact Gabby Lozano at [email protected]