Editor's note:  Is it safe to get back to the life you knew? As services come back, we’re asking our doctors and other providers to help answer those questions in a series called Navigating COVID: Back to life. You’ll find those stories, and many others, here. Got a question? Email healthyheadlines@novanthealth.org.

Dr. John Card

Now that dining-out restrictions are starting to relax, a burger basket or plate of pasta at your favorite restaurant is probably sounding really great.  But will dining out put your health at risk in the age of COVID-19? Dr. John Card of Novant Health Adult Primary Care Harper Hill in Winston-Salem offers tips to help you stay safe along with some potential red flags when eating out.

 What precautions do you need to take if you go to a restaurant?

  • Social distancing remains a must. Stay at least 6 feet from other customers.
  • Wear a face mask unless you’re eating.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before and after the meal or a trip to the restroom.

 What should you expect in terms of how restaurants should be operating?

  • Employees must be screened daily for symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath — and go home if they have any.
  • Tables and booths must be disinfected between customers. High-touch areas — doors and doorknobs, stair rails, tables and payment terminals — should also be cleaned and disinfected frequently.
  • Self-serve food and drink options should be avoided — or supervised by staff.
  • Single-use linens and disposable menus (or menu boards) should be used.
  • Take out, curbside pickup and delivery should be available. Cellphone apps, not pagers, should be used to alert patrons.
  • Barriers such as sneeze guards and partitions should be installed at cash registers or other areas where maintaining separation is difficult.

 Are there particular warning signs or flags that the restaurant is not safe, or that it’s poorly run?

  • Employees are not wearing face coverings properly or washing their hands frequently, especially after using phones, computer, cash register and/or credit card machine.
  • Bathrooms are dirty, lack soap, water or hand-drying materials.
  • Dining surfaces are obviously unclean.
  • Seating is too close together. (During this emergency, a restaurant must not exceed 50% of capacity — and the capacity should be posted.)

 What are good questions to ask those in charge about their safety practices?

  • What precautions are you taking to keep workers and customers safe?
  • Do you have special hours (early morning or late afternoon) for high-risk customers such as seniors?
  • What steps are you taking to prevent lots of people from gathering in a small area such as an entry or the bar?
  • What new policies and procedures have you introduced for cleaning, disinfecting and safety?
  • Are restrooms disinfected after every use?

 Are there any extra steps I could take to protect myself and my family?

  • Use touchless payment options whenever possible. If that’s not an option, exchange cash or card payments on a receipt tray or counter, not by hand.
  • Consider using a Q-tip for keying in PIN numbers on credit card keypads (and dispose of it after use).
  • When possible, use automatic doors.
  • Don’t dine out if you’re feeling ill.
  • If self-serve is used, wash your hands or use sanitizer before and after. Be prepared: Carry hand sanitizer and disposable wipes just in case.
  • Change your clothes and wash up when you get home if you feel protection efforts were lacking.