Local restaurants are keeping coronavirus prevention standards “exceptionally high,” according to King County head of food safety Dr. Eyob Mazengia. The department has carried out more than 7,800 spot-checks since the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis and found safety compliance up to 96%, he notes. “Restaurants want to protect patrons and workers,” Mazengia said. The problems they’ve seen, he says, are largely on the part of customers — “congregating or getting too close,” exhibiting “failure to maintain social distancing.” Masks are extremely important as well, he stresses: “Definitely wear masks while you are out and about.

Dining out in Seattle now, it’s not the restaurant that’s the risk — it’s the other customers

“The responsible thing to do,” Mazengia continued, “is to be very familiar with the different options available for preventing the risk of transmission of COVID-19.”

Here’s his three-pronged approach to staying safe(r) if you choose to dine out now — and doing your part to keep others from risk.

BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO GO TO A RESTAURANT

  • Mazengia says those with underlying health conditions or who are otherwise at high risk might want to just say no. Consider takeout: “If you’re high risk, you can still get food from your favorite establishment and eat it somewhere else,” he said.
  • “If you are sick,” Mazengia said, “you need to stay home. You need to self-quarantine.”
  • Then, would-be diners-out should check the restaurant’s food safety rating online.
  • Mazengia then “encourages customers to maybe place a call and ask a few questions,” including: What is the restaurant doing to comply with physical distancing? What about ensuring sick employees don’t come to work? Are staff members trained in COVID-19 prevention practices? Are they wearing masks?
  • Consider choosing a restaurant with outdoor dining (and, you know, a nice day). “Proper ventilation minimizes risk,” Mazengia said.
  • Choose a slow time with fewer diners — if a restaurant’s open midafternoon, for instance, that’s likely to be less crowded, and thus less risky, than at lunch or dinnertime proper.

BEFORE YOUR RESTAURANT TRIP

  • Per what’s allowed under modified Phase 1, limit the size of your party to five or less, Mazengia said.
  • Make sure no one in your party is sick.
  • Make sure everyone in your party will be wearing masks.
  • Practice good hygiene, including taking hand sanitizer with you (and using it).

UPON ARRIVAL AT THE RESTAURANT

  • Always wear a mask unless at the table.
  • Check for signs of safety compliance: staff wearing masks, proper physical distancing, available hand sanitizer, signs posted about how to proceed rather than people congregating.
  • If it’s crowded, visit at a different time.
  • Again, if possible, dine outdoors, where better ventilation means lower risk. Avoid sitting near heavy foot traffic, e.g., hallways or right outside the kitchen. Bar seating is not currently allowed.
  • Minimize the duration of your stay. “Owners have limited chairs,” Mazengia said, “and you also are being protective of yourself and loved ones.”
  • Utilize prepayment or remote payment options if available.
  • Be ready to bail out. “If it gets crowded at any time, I would recommend that you leave. If customers are coughing, leave,” Mazengia said. If any lack of safety compliance is belatedly observed, he said, “I would shorten my visit as well.”
  • If you observe practices encouraging the transmission of COVID-19, Mazengia urges you to report it — call 206-263-9566 or go to kingcounty.gov/depts/health/covid-19/contact.aspx