Eating at Restaurants 170 Days After Lockdown: Risks to Consider

Restaurants in times of COVID: Experience of dining at my favorite restaurants in Delhi, and precautions to follow.

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Video Editor: Deepthi Ramdas
Camera: Ubada Mehmood

With Unlock 4 and metro services opening on one hand and increasing COVID cases on the other, we all are in a fix to figure out whether it's time to be brave enough to step out or stay at home. Well, some of us are in the middle.

Knowing that it's not a risk-free activity, people have started to eat out.

I went to a few restaurants in Delhi keeping in mind the SOPs issued by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

I checked if  these SOPs are followed; 6 feet physical distancing, hand hygiene, thermal screening, masks, gloves, regular disinfection, sanitisation, seating capacity, and ventilation.

I visited 3 restaurants and believe me or not, two of them had a queue waiting outside.
There was forty minutes waiting at Big Chill in Khan Market so I headed to Gulati’s at Pandara Road to find 15 minutes waiting there.

Staff outside Gulati informed me the reasons for this. He said it takes about 10 minutes “to sanitise and disinfect the chairs and tables".

“Since permitted seating capacity is now 50% to maintain adequate physical distance, we have a space crunch, hence the waiting.”

What Has Changed After The Lockdown?

All the three restaurants followed mandatory hand hygiene and temperature check at the entrance. All members of the staff wore masks and gloves, and even escorted us to our seats as you can no longer just sit anywhere, seats are assigned.

How Far Is Safe Enough?

According to the government’s guidelines, 6 feet distance should be maintained. I cannot really say that seating was at 6 feet distance but tables were set far apart.

Al-Jawahar used to accommodate 100 people in pre-COVID times and now with only 6-7 tables, seating has been reduced to 15-20 people. Same for Big Chill and Gulati.

Pre-COVID times, it was difficult to get the attention of the staff, now at least one person from the staff is always standing on a corner to make sure that all rules are followed, answer customer's queries, etc.

Restaurants are directed to devise ways of less and less contact, hence disposable or digital menus. Whereas Gulati and Big Chill had digital menu and payment, Al-Jawahar offered old used menu card and payment through a debit card.

In such a situation, the best thing was to use hand sanitiser regularly or wash hands and not to touch the face at all.

The crockery and cutlery were not disposable in any of the three restaurants but, for example at Gulati and Al-Jawahar, the sanitisation and cleaning of washed plates before they are served is done right in front of you.

I ordered half chicken biryani at Al-Jawahar, galouti kebabs at Gulati and a Belgium chocolate shake at Big Chill.

For air-conditioning and ventilation, the guidelines of CPWD should be followed which emphasise that the temperature setting of all air conditioning devices should be in the range of 24-30 degree celcius, relative humidity should be in the range of 40-70%, intake of fresh air should be as much as possible and cross ventilation should be adequate.

Open-air dining is advised but unfortunately, most restaurants don’t offer that.
Indoors of Big Chill and Gulati did not seem packed or stuffy. Although without cross-ventilation, the temperature and humidity were maintained.

On the other hand, at Al-Jawahar, apart from air conditioning, had an open entrance allowing cross-ventilation.

Risks You Should Be Aware of Before Dining Out

There are a number of issues that people need to consider before eating out.

Choose wisely wherever you dine. Select the brand you trust. Call up and check if safety protocols are followed.

The restaurant should not be crowded, and large, open restaurants are a better choice.

Beware of high-risk items such as menus and restrooms. Avoid using the toilet.

Do not stay for long. Imagine the risk if you sit for one-two-three hours of dining without a mask on. Remember, the main mechanism that the virus spreads is by respiratory droplets.

If the restaurant feels stuffy or poorly ventilated, know it’s a bad situation, go somewhere else.

So, if you are in the middle of deciding whether to step out and eat or stay at home, I hope this helped you a little bit. Of course, eating out is not risk-free but if you’re going out, be cautious and take precautions.

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