Las Vegas’ long nap is over, and locals seem eager to begin dining out again. But how can you do it safely? We consulted expert Mark Steele, a fourth-generation restaurateur and founder/owner of the Las Vegas-based Restaurant Hospitality Institute. His school has developed several programs by which restaurants can safely operate in the era of COVID-19.
Look for the A grade. Download and use the free phone app Restaurant Grades Southern Nevada, which displays the Southern Nevada Health District’s restaurant health grades. Choosing a restaurant with an A grade will ensure the cleanest practices.
Return to old favorites. “People have to feel comfortable, like you’re going into the right place, so I would suggest going to places that you have been to before,” Steele says. Besides, it’s good to support old friends. “For sure, your local chef, your local server, your bartender, your watering hole—they miss you.”
Avoid needless contact. Sometimes dining in isn’t worth it. If you’re eating fast or casual food, Steele suggests ordering it to-go and having your own picnic in a nearby park. If you do eat in, practice social distancing. Choose a spaced-out table, and don’t crowd around the host stand.
Don’t be afraid to call ahead. If you have any questions about a restaurant’s safety practices, Steele suggests talking to the chef or owner. If you can get your questions answered in advance, it will ease your mind so you can focus on what matters: the food!
Bring a mask. Sure, it’s impossible, or at the very least impractical, to eat or drink while wearing a mask. But you should still bring one with you and wear it when you can. Think of it as common courtesy to the immunocompromised. “The friendly thing to do is to wear a face mask whenever you’re out, because you don’t know who’s sitting at the table next to you,” Steele says.
Vote with your dollar. Look for evidence of cleanliness in all areas of the restaurant. You’ll want to see staff in clean and pressed uniforms. Utensils should be free of fingerprints. Staff should be handling plates and glasses so that their fingers do not touch the eating and drinking surfaces. Water pitchers should never touch the rim of your glass. Steele says that if service is subpar, dine elsewhere in the future. “It’s a telltale sign that the staff has not been trained if they can’t even handle glassware correctly.” Note that some restaurants are starting to add a surcharge to cover the cost of extra staffing, sanitizing and increased cost of ingredients.
Be careful with home-delivery services. “Third-party driver deliveries are not required to have either an alcohol awareness card or a health card, but they’re the ones handling your food for longer than the restaurants are,” Steele says, advising home diners to order from credible sources. He says that one positive development in response to COVID-19 has been that many restaurants have begun sealing their delivery packages with stickers and/or staples to ensure deliverers haven’t snuck a few of your fries.
Above all, enjoy yourself. Between the emphasis on safe practices and the need to dazzle customers in this newly competitive era, Steele says service should be at its all-time peak. “These people have been locked up just like you, so they will be ready to roll out the red carpet and give you a smile and be as friendly as they can be.”