On May 22, the first night dine-in service was allowed under phase two of Governor Roy Cooper’s reopening plan, I went out to eat at two restaurants.
With so many places offering expanded takeout options, I could have waited weeks or months, but I was curious to see what it’s like. (And I really wanted a jalapeño basil martini from Bistro La Bon.)
So I put on my mask, dragged my boyfriend along for the ride, and documented the experience.
Several members of the Agenda team have since dined out a few more times, and we’ve reached out to other local restaurants to give you a picture of what dining out looks like during the coronavirus pandemic.
Choosing a restaurant:
Picking which restaurant to start with felt like an impossible choice, so I chose two. One that’s popular with our readers: Suffolk Punch. And one that’s a personal favorite: Bistro La Bon (Plaza Midwood location). I also considered outdoor seating capacity and reservation systems.
[Related Agenda guide: Which top 20 Charlotte restaurants are now open?]
Bistro La Bon had a sneeze guard in front of its hostess stand, which helps protect both the diner and staff member. The hostess then directed me to a sign where I then scanned a QR code and accessed a virtual menu (genius).
A few days later, at Superica, a hostess greeted customers outside so people weren’t waiting for a table in a small enclosed space. Plus, staff members open doors for customers and wear gloves.
All staff members at Suffolk Punch were wearing masks, too.
At O-Ku in South End, all diners (and staff) are temperature checked.
Signs are everywhere:
Signs like the virtual menu directions are everywhere in the restaurants I’ve dined at thus far. At Suffolk Punch, signs are taped to each table with instructions like, “Don’t be here if you have any symptoms …” and “Don’t congregate while standing.”
At Cuzzo’s Cuisine, there’s a sign on the door reminding customers to wear a mask to pick up food.
O-Ku also had signs at the entrance to promote the three W’s: wear a face covering, wait six feet apart, and wash your hands.
Dining in and wearing a mask can be a challenge — you can’t consume food with cloth over your mouth. At least half of diners I saw didn’t wear a mask at all. For me, I wore a mask anytime I could, and always when I left my table.
Not all restaurants are requiring staff members to wear masks, though, so call ahead to ensure a restaurant’s policy matches your comfort level.
[Related Agenda story: Restaurants can reopen, but will the diners return?]
Socially distant floorplans:
Per state social distancing guidelines, restaurants must allow at least six feet between diners. All the restaurants we dined at were following those guidelines. Some, like Superica, removed excess tables. Others — Dressler’s and Suffolk Punch, for example — left the tables in as buffers with markings to signify they weren’t for diners.
There’s not the same busy feeling you would have found at a restaurant like Superica before the coronavirus, but still it felt like a true dining experience with friendly staff (though their smiles were covered with a mask) and the same good food.
How to be safe when dining out:
- Choose your restaurant wisely and book a reservation so you know it’s not over capacity. Call ahead to ensure a restaurant’s policies align with your comfort level. We all have different comfort levels.
- Sit outside if you can and always at least six feet away from other diners.
- Wear a mask whenever possible.
- Wash your hands frequently and carry hand sanitizer with you when washing your hands isn’t possible.
- Dine during off-peak times like 5 p.m. or 9 p.m. for dinner. There’s less likely to be a crowd then.
- Go out to eat in small groups and, ideally, only with those in your household.
- Avoid going out to eat if you or someone in your household is in a high risk category for COVID-19.
- Do your research on best practices. I found this Eater article really helpful before I went out to eat for the first time: Is it safe to eat at restaurants yet?
Lastly, if dining out isn’t in your comfort zone right now, that’s more than OK. You can still support local restaurants by ordering takeout.
Got a specific question about dining out that I missed here? Email email@example.com.
Brianna Crane contributed to this reporting.