Covid-19 restaurant etiquette: 5 things to keep in mind when dining out during the pandemic

Keep those masks firmly on when not seated, and stay up to date with current rules and regulations

A worker wears a protective mask while carrying a tray with food in the outside dining area of Crown Shy restaurant in New York, U.S., on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2020. New York City currently prohibits all indoor dining, but will allow restaurants to open indoor dining rooms at 25% capacity, beginning September 30. Photographer: David 'Dee' Delgado/Bloomberg
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There was a time when dining etiquette meant keeping your elbows off the table, chewing with your mouth closed and ensuring everyone was served before tucking into the meal.

While these basics remain unchanged, the onset of the coronavirus has impacted the way we view eating out as a whole. Tacit table manners are no longer limited to knowing which cutlery to use when (the rule for that, by the way, is to start from the outside and work your way in). If you're heading to a restaurant during and, we suspect, even after the pandemic, here are some niceties and necessities to keep in mind.

Stay well-versed on changing rules

Amanda Herholdt, operations manager at The Coffee Club, believes one of the most important measures when dining out is to be mindful of the current Covid-19 regulations. “We are following these health and safety guidelines so that we can assure guests that we are offering them a safe environment to dine out or order in,” she says.

In Dubai, current Covid-19 rules allow for up to eight guests per table. As part of an update to these regulations, restaurants have also been given the option to use dividers instead of placing tables two metres apart.

Meanwhile, Dubai's Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing has said that bars and restaurants in the emirate must suspend all entertainment activities by 1am, and hotels must stop providing food and drinks after 3am, with the exception of delivery and room service.

Abu Dhabi restaurants are currently allowed to operate at 80 per cent capacity and have four people per table, says Pascal Pinazo, general manager at Fouquet’s, plus all tables must be spaced two metres apart.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 07 MAY 2020. UAE residents, restaurants and hotels cut food waste during pandemic as eating habits change . The Reif Japanese Kushiyaki restaurant kitchen in the Dar Wasl Mall on Al Wasl Rd. Chef Reif poses for a portrait. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Kelly Clarker. Section: National.

It's important to keep these changing rules in mind when making requests at a restaurant. For example, Reif Othman, founder of Reif Japanese Kushiyaki Restaurant, requests that customers do not ask staff for additional chairs or tables to the space assigned to them. "Especially in a small restaurant that doesn't allow for additional seating, this might violate the two-metre social-distancing rule set by authorities," he says.

Put on face masks when leaving the table

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - N/A. News. Coronavirus/Covid-19. Covid-19 safety measures are implemented at The Butcher restaurant in the marina. Friday, September 11th, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Pinazo says wearing masks is one of the most basic precautions. "Masks are obligatory when guests are away from the table. We are also providing a disposal bin on the table for this and a replacement mask whenever necessary," he says.

If you feel that's too tough, remember that staff at restaurants have to wear masks all day. As one irate restaurant goer puts it: "That means customers can surely pop one on when walking to the toilet or while pacing back and forth, talking on the phone. When seated at a safe distance and eating, it's normal to take it off, but when standing over people and walking around, put one on.

"Not doing so is not only worthy of a fine, but it's also immensely disrespectful. The customer is not always right, and waiters are busy enough trying to tackle new norms while keeping service running smoothly."

Meanwhile, when seated at the dining table, remember to put that face mask away. "It's unhygienic and rude to keep it on the table, especially when staff have to put food there. Tuck it into your pocket, bag or purse," says Othman.

Keep up with your reservations

With tables being spaced out, restaurants are still not able to accommodate as many customers as they once did. That means it's doubly important to make a reservation when you're planning to eat out, to avoid any crowding at the entrance. Likewise, if you can't make the reservation, take the trouble to cancel it. Not showing up is not only rude, but it can also cost the restaurant, which often turns away customers if it has been fully booked.

Brian Voelzing, group executive chef at Lincoln Hospitality, which oversees La Serre, The Loft at Dubai Opera, Distillery and Taikun, says it's not fair to business or to the staff. "We try to engineer the menus in such a way that we don't have wastage. But if you think you've got 42 people coming in for brunch and you're preparing food platters, and 42 don't turn up, then you are left with extra food."

After you're done with your dinner, don't stay past your allotted time. "Staff need time to properly sanitise the table before seating the next guests," says Othman.

Avoid touching anything you don’t have to

Zomato has launched contactless dining, so you can browse menus, order meals and pay bills using QWR codes

No matter how careful you’re being with your personal hygiene, it's best to avoid touching more surfaces than you have to during these times. Some establishments may have menu cards on tables but if you have the option, scan the QR code with your phone to see the menu.

The rule also applies to another person’s plate. If your dining companion isn’t family or sharing food may make them uncomfortable or unsafe, be respectful of their personal space and don’t offer them your food, either.

Be kind and patient

The restaurant industry has been hard hit over the past year, and it would be best to be mindful of changes staff are still undergoing as they keep up with the new normal. "Sometimes, the mask makes it difficult for them to communicate properly," Herholdt says. "We kindly ask that guests show some patience to team members serving them in restaurants."