If you’re planning on eating at a restaurant during a holiday trip, here’s what health and travel experts say you should consider first, and how to remain as safe as possible while there.

Share on Pinterest
Several factors can increase or decrease your COVID-19 risk while dining at restaurants. 10’000 Hours/Getty Images

The holiday season brings many reasons to get together with friends and family.

And this year, especially, you might be extra anxious to get back to your usual pre-pandemic festivities, including meeting up at restaurants.

But before you throw on your holiday best and head to your favorite spot, keep in mind that there are still COVID-19 risks to consider while spending time at restaurants.

“Restaurants are high-risk environments for acquiring COVID, as the majority of patrons will be maskless throughout their visit. The more crowded and enclosed the space, the riskier it will be,” Dr. Scott Braunstein, medical director of Sollis Health in Los Angeles, told Healthline.

As you make dining plans, consider the following.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that restaurant drive-thru, delivery, takeout, and curbside pickup have the lowest COVID-19 risk.

The CDC also says the following can help you gauge the risk of being at restaurants while you eat and socialize:

  • More risk: on-site dining outdoors with tables spaced at least 6 feet apart
  • Higher risk: on-site dining with tables spaced at least 6 feet apart, or outdoor seating spaced closer than 6 feet apart
  • Highest risk: on-site indoor seating without any reduced capacity, or tables not spaced at least 6 feet apart

If you plan to dine inside, Braunstein suggested choosing less busy times and days of the week when possible.

Once inside, ask to get seated near a window, and “bring hand sanitizer with you, and use immediately before eating and after,” he said.

The CDC states that using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol is your safest bet at keeping germs away.

You can also wash your hands before and after eating with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Braunstein recommends going to restaurants that require showing proof of COVID-19 vaccination to eat inside.

“These restaurants should be considered safer options, though this certainly does not eliminate any risk,” he said.

If you’re not vaccinated, he added that now is the time to make an appointment.

“Vaccinations do not prevent all infections, but they are enormously successful at preventing severe illness. Since immunity from vaccination takes several weeks, the sooner the better,” Braunstein said.

“We all want to return to pre-pandemic life, and herd immunity from vaccinations is the best path,” he said.

Wearing a mask inside restaurants when not eating or drinking can reduce your risk of COVID-19, said Braunstein.

The CDC advises that masks cover the mouth and nose, and fit snugly against the sides of the face so there are no gaps.

For extra protection, wear a mask with layers.

“Perhaps most important, wear your mask correctly the entire time when you are using the restroom, which is a very high-risk location for COVID transmission,” Braunstein said.

If you’re traveling this holiday season, think ahead about where you plan to eat.

“For a lot of people, dining out is a huge part of the travel experience and a great way to explore the local culture. But dining out can also just be a necessity if you’re staying in a hotel or accommodation without access to a kitchen,” Alex Butler, senior editor at Lonely Planet, told Healthline.

Before you leave home, she recommended researching the COVID-19 regulations in your destination, as well as in place at the restaurants you’d like to visit.

“While the state you’re headed to may not have mask mandates in place, some businesses still require their staff to wear them,” Butler said.

If you’re headed to places like New York City or Los Angeles, know that you’ll need to prove you’re vaccinated to eat inside a restaurant.

“Figure out the local rules and the level of risk you’re comfortable with, and plan accordingly. If you’re lucky enough to be headed somewhere warm, choose restaurants with outdoor spaces and make the most of dining al fresco,” Butler said.

Braunstein agreed, and noted it’s a good idea to figure out the local coronavirus case positivity rates and vaccination rates by visiting your destination’s local county Department of Health website.

And don’t forget about places you might stop along the way to your final destination.

“If you are driving to your destination, review potential locations where you would stop for food when you plan your trip,” Braunstein said.

We understand that you’re worried about your health and safety away from home, and the safety of the communities that you’re visiting around the world. As regulations and requirements for travel shift, we’re here to help you navigate this complex and often confusing landscape. Whether you’re driving to a natural wonder in your state or flying around the globe, we can help you protect yourself and others.

Check back often to learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones on your next journey.