Restaurant workers share 7 etiquette rules you should follow when dining outdoors

Restaurant workers and diners have learned to adapt with the ever-changing outdoor dining scene. Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images

Summary List Placement

Some restaurant workers have been nervous about returning to their jobs during the pandemic.

Johan Lozano, the head server at Golden Diner in Manhattan’s Chinatown neighbourhood, told Insider that initially the thought of coming back to work was scary. But after learning about the new cleaning and safety procedures outlined by the New York State governor’s office and receiving clear guidelines for his job, he said he felt safer.

Dania Daniella Kim, the Asian diner’s general manager, told Insider that each staff member and delivery driver is trained to respond to a customer coming inside to use the restroom. They clean every door handle, sink knob, and anything else the customer might have touched.

According to the New York City Restaurant Reopening Guide, outdoor diners must wear masks except for when seated or eating/drinking, and restaurants must space tables at least 6 feet apart. While restaurants in New York City have been allowed to open footpath and curbside seating since June, indoor dining is still not permitted, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday.

“It’s basically like starting over because everything is different,” Lozano told Insider. “We just have to adapt, we have to learn the new system, and just go with it.”

The same can be said for diners, who may be uneasy about eating out again after months of cooking or getting takeout.

Speaking to Insider, Kim and Lozano shared their tips for diners to make eating out more comfortable for all involved during this time.

Look out for signs and expect changes

Look around to see if the restaurant has posted any signs indicating their safety procedures. Some restaurants may require diners to put their names down and wait elsewhere while others might highlight restroom policies.

“Don’t just walk in,” Kim said.

And even if you were able to seat yourself at a certain restaurant before doesn’t mean that’s the case now. The Golden Diner staff members recommend asking a host what you should do to be seated or place an order.

And when you approach a staff member or the restaurant’s front door, make sure you’re wearing your mask.

Keep your mask on until after you’ve ordered food

While the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines recommend that restaurants require all staff to wear cloth face coverings, they don’t provide clear guidance on requirements for customers. NYC guidelines, however, require customers to wear masks at all times except when seated or eating/drinking.

The restaurant workers we spoke with said they appreciate diners keeping their mask on during the ordering process. Lozano said that first interaction is when the most amount of speaking happens between service staff and patron.

Kim said she appreciates any time a customer puts their mask back on at the table to interact with a staff member or the minute they’re finished eating.

Outdoor Instructions Golden Diner
Golden Diner has signs instructing diners on how to order. Courtesy of Dania Daniella Kim of Golden Diner

Do your own research

Kim said it’s perfectly OK to call a restaurant ahead of time to ask about their rules and procedures.

Ask what the menu looks like – some restaurants reference online menus while others offer physical menus – and whether they’re providing single-use cutlery. Ask what they’re doing to keep everyone safe and what they require of you. While NYC’s guidelines are available online, some restaurants may choose to implement their own additional rules of operation.

Asking about table capacity and party size is also a good idea, Kim said. While New York State outlines a maximum of 10 people at a single table, restaurants may limit that number even further. Don’t arrive expecting to have dinner with 10 friends when the restaurant allows for a maximum of four people per table.

Ask how you can be helpful

Kim said many patrons ask what they can do to make things easier on restaurant staff, whether that’s wearing a mask whenever a server approaches or walking around the block while waiting for a table.

Rather than assuming what would be helpful, ask a staff member. Each restaurant does things in its own way, and protocols are likely changing often.

Don’t loiter, and go for a walk if there’s a wait

Now is not the time to sit for another 30 minutes after you’ve paid the bill. Restaurants are trying to seat as many people as they safely can, so getting up after you’re finished and continuing your conversation elsewhere is a great way to help them generate more business, staff members told us.

If a restaurant is particularly busy with a long wait, footpaths can get crowded quickly. Kim suggests that you ask the host to call you when your table is ready and go for a walk to create space.

Social Distanced Tables Golden Diner
Staff at Golden Diner cleans tables between each seating. Courtesy of Dania Daniella Kim of Golden Diner

Leave your table as you found it

Lozano told Insider he doesn’t mind when a customer brings something of their own from home – as long as they take it back with them, he never has to touch it.

If you bring your own water bottle, reusable straw, a book, or anything else, be sure to take it with you when you leave.

Be kind and tip what you can

Lastly, Lozano and Kim ask that diners be kind. Staff members are working hard to make sure you have a safe and enjoyable experience. If the wait for food is a little longer, or you don’t get that water refill right away, they ask that you remember everyone is trying their best.

When it comes to tipping, Lozano said he understands that just because you’re dining out it doesn’t mean you can afford to tip more than usual or even the typical 15-20%. (Experts encourage diners to consider the impending health risk to service members and tip more than they did before.) He told Insider that any amount of tip is appreciated, so give what you can.

Golden Diner is taking outdoor dining reservations on its website, in addition to offering takeout and delivery through an in-house delivery service.