How The Pandemic Taught Us To Be Better Diners

Mask and vaccine mandates are disappearing—but we can still be good restaurant patrons going forward.

It's hard to not feel at least a little optimistic about the state of the pandemic. Sure, we're coming up on the two-year anniversary of COVID shutting the entire world down, but looking at the daily number of cases things seem to be trending in the right direction. So much so, in fact, that many states and cities are getting rid of mandates requiring indoor guests of bars and restaurants to show vaccine cards and wear masks when not eating or drinking. Here in Chicago, the rule will be lifted on Monday, February 28.

So what does that mean for dining out? Certainly not that things are back to "normal," whatever that may be these days. We hope that many of the ways we used to eat are forever things of the past. There are things we learned during the height of the pandemic that we should hold onto going forward to keep ourselves safe and support our favorite bars and restaurants the best we can.

Respect the rules of individual establishments

Removing the mask and vaccine mandates at the city or state level simply gives individual establishments the go-ahead to stop requiring vax card checks at the door and masks for customers indoors. That doesn't mean, however, that they have to stop requiring these things.


Your favorite bars, restaurants, and coffee shops may very well still ask you to mask up or provide proof of vaccination, like these businesses in Boston where the mandates were lifted last week. I expect some businesses may even revert back to protocols we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, like taking the temperature of every patron who walks in.

Double-check the bar or restaurant's rules before heading out, either by looking online or calling ahead just to be sure. In any case, it's worth making a habit of keeping your vaccine card and a fresh mask on your person at all times. If you're not willing to comply with any given spot's COVID precautions, then don't show up just to cause trouble—there are plenty of other restaurants out there.


Keep washing and sanitizing your hands

Remember at the beginning of the pandemic when we realized how many people had not been washing their hands until the CDC started harping on it? Well, it seems like even though there was an uptick in hand hygiene back in March 2020, a recent survey by plumbing company the Bradley Company found a 25% decrease in handwashing since the onset of COVID. Let's not let this habit fade away!


This is as much to protect yourself as others. Restaurants will certainly be doing their best to properly sanitize everything, but remember when you walk into a restaurant you're touching door handles, chairs, menus, and bathroom stalls before touching your food; if you don't want to drop your own germs there or pick up anyone else's, more washing and sanitizing is better than less. (It's also worth investing in a high-grade moisturizer to revive your skin from all the washing and sanitizing.)

Get comfortable with QR codes

Who knew QR codes would make such a splash after years of seeming obsolete? And they could be here to stay, in part because of the above issue involving menu sharing and sanitizing. But there are other benefits to QR codes as well. Food & Wine recently reported on San Francisco's Good Culture Club, which is doubling down on QR codes. The system allows workers to focus more on the hospitality, and when customers can order directly from their phones, food hits the table in a more efficient way.


Still, there are some downsides. It's our duty to inform you that QR codes are almost definitely collecting your data, and there have been recent reports of QR code scams on the rise, reports CNET. To avoid this at restaurants without physical menus, it's worth looking into whether or not there's a URL that you can type directly into your phone's browser instead of scanning any sort of code.

Don’t get in anyone’s personal space

There is no reason you should be physically touching anyone at the restaurant or bar you're attending (same goes for your servers touching you). There are plenty of polite ways to get an employee's attention without invading their personal bubble, and you should assume that other customers are not there to interact with you. That six-feet-apart-at-all-times rule is one worth holding onto as much as possible going forward. It won't always be feasible, depending on the type of space you're in, but it's a good general guideline.


Tip generously

Just because the pandemic seems to be winding down doesn't mean you should tip any less than these unprecedented times have called for. Restaurant workers are still dealing with tremendous stress and low wages, and many businesses may soon do away with the COVID surcharge built into checks to go directly to staffers—meaning that these employees can use any help they can get. Here's a handy guide on tipping if you need a refresher.


Don’t dine out if you’re feeling sick

For the love of god, if you have a sniffle or a cough or feel like something might be coming on, just stay home. It's not worth being patient zero of the next hot new variant just to get your Bloomin' Onion. And if you're really craving a particular restaurant's food, there's always contactless delivery.


If we keep even the most manageable illnesses from spreading through bars and restaurants, there will be just that many more establishments for us to enjoy in the future when our personal health—and the health of the industry at large—is back to 100%.