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Infectious Diseases

Updated 17 July 2020

How to reduce your risk of contracting Covid-19 in a restaurant

With restaurants in South Africa reopening, people are more likely to dine out – but how can you do this safely?

  • South Africans are now once again allowed to sit down at restaurants to have a meal
  • Restaurants are doing their best to keep customers from getting infected with Covid-19
  • However, if you or members of your family are in a high-risk category, rather rely on home deliveries or kerbside pickups 


On 17 June 2020, it was announced that restaurants were permitted to serve sit-down patrons again during an advanced level of stage 3 lockdown in South Africa.

And while this news came as a great relief for cash-strapped businesses, many people are still reluctant to have a sit-down meal at a restaurant, and have doubts whether it’s safe to do so.

But, what should you know? Are there risks, and are there ways you can lower your risk for Covid-19 infection at restaurants?

Not risk-free

With restaurants are stepping up to the plate, ensuring that mandatory safety regulations such as sanitisers, masks, proper ventilation and physical distancing are in place, it’s important to know that no amount of safety measures will completely eradicate the possibility of Covid-19 infection.

According to Eleanor J. Murray, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health in Massachusetts, the safety measures you see at restaurants are likely to decrease the risk, but there is no way that you can guarantee that there will be no infection.

"It's important how much time you spend in proximity to other people, how close you are to them, whether you’re in an indoor space versus a more ventilated or outdoor space, and how physically crowded you are and how much of that crowding is with people that you don’t typically come in contact with,” she explained. “Restaurants hit potentially all the worst side of those things.”

Roby Gershon, a clinical professor of epidemiology at New York University’s School of Global Public health stated that the decision to eat inside re-opened restaurants should be weighed against your own risk.

"As a public health disaster researcher and educator, I think about the risk to myself, and so every person has to really take stock," she stated.

Dine out safely

If you are considering heading out for a meal, here’s what you can do to lower your risk of Covid-19 infection:

1. Take stock of the safety measures in place

If you are worried about your infection risk, take note of the different areas inside and outside the restaurant and whether they are limiting seating with adjusted seating plans. If tables are spaced 2m apart, your risk of prolonged contact with other patrons will be reduced.

2. Sit outside, if you can

If the restaurant of your choice offers outdoor seating and the weather permits, choose to sit outside, as open spaces with moving air significantly decrease your risk of contracting the virus via airborne droplets.

3. Wear your mask when you are not eating

Not only will this decrease your risk of infection, but it’s simply courteous towards fellow patrons and your servers, as SARS-CoV-2 may still be spread, even if you are asymptomatic.

4. Don’t ask for disposable forks and knives

Regular, proper washing of utensils, plates and glasses is enough to inactivate the virus on surfaces. Your risk of contracting Covid-19 via contaminated surfaces is also lower than direct exposure to droplets, so don’t worry too much.

5. Don’t touch your mouth, nose and eyes

Even if you touch a contaminated surface such as a tabletop or menu, your risk is still reduced when you don’t touch your face with dirty hands. Keep hand sanitiser with an alcohol percentage of 70% with you at all times and sanitise between touching the table and other surfaces.

6. Decide beforehand

Menus covered in plastic can potentially become vectors of SARS-CoV-2 if these aren’t wiped properly. Many restaurants are aware of this and will do everything they can to regularly sanitise menus, or will make use of disposable printed menus, but limit your contact (and your stay) by deciding what to eat beforehand by checking their online menu. This will also help your server to avoid prolonged exposure at your table. So, if you tend to um and ah about what to order, plan ahead.

7. Evaluate your own risk (and the risk of those in your household)

If you fall into a category particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 (older than 60, or with any co-morbidities like diabetes or hypertension, or if you are immunocompromised), try and stick to food deliveries, drive-throughs or kerbside pickups from your favourite restaurant. You will be supporting your favourite local spot while protecting yourself from unnecessary risk.

If someone in your immediate household is particularly at risk, think twice about meeting up with people from other households in a restaurant. A close encounter at a grocery shop poses less risk of infection than sitting in close proximity to someone for longer than 15 minutes at a restaurant.

READ | Masks and Covid-19: The latest guidelines

READ | Worried about catching coronavirus from surfaces? The city you live in may matter

Image credit: Getty Images