COVID-safe travel: Dining at bars and restaurants this holiday season

Dining out this holiday season will be markedly different for most people across the globe, with social distancing measures resulting in limited seating and longer waiting times becoming the norm rather than the exception.

When we go to our favourite bar or restaurant this holiday season, we will notice that the environment is markedly different when compared with previous years. Food and beverage establishments which are allowed to operate for dine-in services have implemented a host of safety measures to minimise the risk of spread of COVID-19 in places where the outbreak is under control. Here are what travellers can expect at pubs, bars and restaurants:

Limited indoor and outdoor seatings: The number of people allowed indoors in pubs, bars and restaurants depends on the level of restrictions in that city. Tables will usually be spaced apart to ensure social distancing. The risk of spread of infection is lesser in an outdoor area versus an enclosed place and in smaller groups, hence indoor seating will be more limited.. Per table bookings may be restricted to a limited number of people for group gatherings. People will need to make table bookings at least a week or two in advance if it’s indoors, while outdoor seatings are often delegated for walk-ins. Customers may be allocated a time limit of around two hours to ensure that there is more footfall at these venues.

Health screening: Many bars and restaurants will conduct temperature checks at the entrance and make patrons to fill out a health questionnaire to see if they have been experiencing any symptoms or been in contact with anyone who is suspected of infection. Expect longer waiting periods before entering an eatery or bar even if you have a booking.

Hygiene and sanitisation: Almost all food and beverages outlets today have sanitisers at the entrances, dining tables and near restrooms and customers are advised to use them at least once before entering and while exiting. Most restaurants and bars will stipulate that patrons wear facemasks until they are seated, while in some places, customers are not allowed to remove masks unless they are eating or drinking. Some restaurants have also removed items like table buzzers and opted to have disposable paper menus to limit the number of items to be shared among different customers.

QR codes for entry and placing orders: Customers will often be asked to scan a QR code with their mobile at the entrance of the venue and register their name and contact details online; these help with contact tracing in case of a suspected outbreak at the venue in the future. QR codes are also increasingly being used at tables for people to scan and place their orders online to minimise their contact with wait staff.

Limited menu options which are pre-booked: Many fine dining restaurants with limits on their operating hours, less staff and limited indoor gatherings are offering only a set or fixed menu dining experience and have removed the a la carte menu, to speed up table orders and help manage larger group bookings. Customers may have to choose from the set menu options at the time of booking and pay an advance or the full price of the menu option to secure their table. This also helps restaurants which have been shut for months recuperate some of their losses by being guaranteed a minimum payment per customer.

Restrictions on alcohol: In places with an ongoing or suspected outbreak, alcohol sales may be restricted to a limited number of hours at bars and pubs in the evening or completely banned, including at restaurants. Some health experts have warned that excessive alcohol consumption can make individuals more susceptible to the virus as they may be less likely to practice social distancing. Another rationale for restricting sale of alcohol at these places is to reduce the instance of alcohol fuelled crimes and illness amid an outbreak. Some bars and pubs may also not allow patrons to stand at the bar and drink to ensure that social distancing measures are maintained and there is limited interaction with bar staff.

Tips for eating or drinking out safely during the pandemic:

  • Avoid sharing cutlery with people from different households.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after eating, and after visiting the venue.
  • Wear a mask in places where social distancing measures are not possible.
  • Stay at home if you feel sick.
  • Get tested if you start having COVID-like symptoms a few days after visiting the venue.

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