Some Houston restaurants are opening their dining rooms starting Friday. If you're of the belief that it's time to get out there and be in a public place, then you've probably been waiting for this day for a while. If you'd rather play it safe and stay home, restaurants are still very much doing take-out and delivery. Many spots are waiting to open their dining rooms. Everything seems to be fluid.
So, if you go to a restaurant, how should you dine out safely?
The Texas Restaurant Association, a leading advocacy group and resource for establishments across the Lone Star State, unveiled on Monday the Texas Restaurant Promise, a mission statement of sorts that restaurants can adopt as they let people back inside. The Texas Restaurant Promise also includes a section called "Customer Responsibilities and Options." Why is that?
"Customers are included because we all have a responsibility to follow public health authority guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19," the document reads. "By partnering together, we can keep everyone safe."
The Texas Restaurant Promise asks customers to:
- Use contactless delivery if you've been exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms of COVID-19 (cough, fever, shortness of breath).
- Use contactless delivery if you have underlying health conditions and/or are concerned about contracting COVID-19.
- Ask for a manager if you have any questions or need assistance.
- Follow social distancing guidelines (stay at least six feet from others) and maintain a habit of constant sanitization and cleanliness (wash hands thoroughly and frequently, use hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes).
Other things to note from our reporting:
- Most restaurants will only be accepting reservations because of dining room occupancy restrictions, so owners and operators advise to call early or go online as soon as possible to check for an inquire about open seats.
- Many restaurants are taking reservations for specific times (say 5 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 8 p.m.) and seating customers at once. In this event, you may be under a time limit when inside a dining room; operators ask that you respect this guideline.
- Many restaurants will ask customers who arrive earlier than their seating time to wait in their vehicles until tables are ready.
- Some restaurants will check customer temperatures at the door. Most, if not all, restaurants will be checking staff temperatures at least once daily.
- Restaurants will be using disposable menus, or they may be projecting menu items on televisions or boards off-limits to customers.
- If you're going to a buffet restaurant, you won't be permitted to get your own food at the buffet. Instead, staff members will be serving you the food you want.
- In some places, you may be eating with disposable utensils and on disposable plates.
- Parties can be no more than six to a table. There's a better chance of getting a seat at restaurant if your party is in even numbers (two, four, six).
With that, restaurateurs ask that customers bear with them. This is a unique situation where establishments have been changing their operations multiple times to fit government-issued guidelines.
"If you're choosing to go in an establishment now, please have the decency to follow any guidelines they've requested," says Eric Pierson, owner of The Branch Neighborhood Grill in Spring Branch, whose dining room will be open Friday to seat at most 36 people. "If they ask to make a reservation, please make a reservation. If they ask to wear a mask when you come in, and then you can take it off when you eat, then please do that. We're literally making it up as we go along, so in order for it to work, we need to try things."
While The Branch is a neighborhood restaurant that serves many of the same people in the Spring Branch area, Pierson will be strict about reservations. Friends and regulars will have to use the same system as everyone else.
"There's no chance I'm going to play around," Pierson says. "I cannot afford to lose my business."