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What Waiters Want You to Know About Outdoor Dining

Outdoor dining is the safest way to enjoy a meal at a restaurant right now, but there are plenty of things that you should consider before heading back to your favorite dining spot. Here's what restaurant servers from across the United States want you to know.

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Business owner working at a cafe wearing a facemaskandresr/Getty Images

The new normal of dining

For many states throughout the United States, outdoor dining is by far the safest—and possibly even the only—option for eating at a restaurant. If you approach it with care and courtesy, it can be an enjoyable experience, especially during beautiful summer weather. But if you’re careless or disrespectful, you could make things way more difficult both for yourself and, especially, for the waitstaff. Here, some actual waiters and waitresses reveal things they wish restaurant customers would do while dining outdoors, and describe how the strange new world has made their jobs more challenging. Plus, learn even more things you shouldn’t do at reopened restaurants.

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Business people protected from coronavirus101cats/Getty Images

Wear your mask when ordering

Yes, you obviously can’t wear your mask when you’re eating. But that doesn’t mean you should forego your mask for the entire duration of your dining experience. Steph Young, founder & writer of, wishes that you’d at least keep it on while ordering. “It’s less stressful for waiters when everyone at the table leaves their masks on while ordering (even when they’re not the one talking),” she says. After all, they have to wear masks at all times when they’re working, and they have to get within six feet of distance to take your order. And since masks muffle your voice, make sure to speak extra loudly and clearly when ordering. Find out how much longer we might need to wear masks.

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Waiter wearing a facemask while getting a contactless payment at a restaurantandresr/Getty Images

Pay with a card, if possible

Yes, the new worldwide apprehension about cash extends to waitstaff. If you can, try to pay with a card—including when tipping. “Honestly, cash these days is pretty scary, since it’s hard to know how many people have touched it recently,” Young says. “Cards are a lot easier to deal with than cash when paying the bill and leaving a tip.” Learn more about whether we should still be using cash in a post-COVID world.

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African American Woman Disinfecting Skin With Hand Sanitizerdiego_cervo/Getty Images

Use hand sanitizer

You’re going to be eating, a process that involves using your hands and touching your face. Most restaurants are providing hand sanitizer for outdoor diners, so before you sit down, take some. “We encourage [customers] to use our hand sanitizers and follow the safety procedures we have in place,” says Laura Olsson of Johan’s Joe in West Palm Beach, Florida.

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Serving is tougher

Some establishments that didn’t have outdoor dining before are dealing with a whole separate set of challenges. This is the case for Brooklyn Chop House in New York City. One of its servers, Justin VanAuken, explains, “Instead of the kitchen being 20 feet away, it’s now 200 feet away, ten times our usual routes. With the new outdoor deck being the only way to deliver the fine dining experience we are accustomed to at Brooklyn Chop House, servers ask for a bit more patience from costumers while waiting for their drinks and food.”

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Re-opening Continues Across Densely Populated New York And New Jersey AreasAlexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Be clear

Yassaira Torres, a server at New York City’s Merchants NY, wishes customers would be as clear as possible with their servers so that you’re not wasting their time and making the process as efficient as possible. “Let your server know, when they first approach you, if you would like time to read through the menu…or ask your questions, so that when they return they are ready to either take your order or have the answers you need,” she says. “Be thoughtful if you are not ready to order [and] do not hold up the staff.” You want to spend as little time with less than six feet of distance between you and your server as possible.

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Close up of woman using mobileTim Robberts/Getty Images

There might be more tech involved

For once, it might not be rude to use your phone at the dinner table. Rick Camac, the Dean of Restaurant & Hospitality Management at the Institute of Culinary Education, says that many restaurants are switching to electronic menus for the time being so that you can order on your phone. He says you may also be able to pay using your phone. Of course, the protocols will be different at each restaurant. Which brings us to…

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Porrtait of senior man at home learning to use laptopWestend61/Getty Images

Do your research

Unfortunately, it’s not as feasible to just stroll up to a restaurant and expect service as it used to be. “Many restaurants may have extended dining hours, set seating times, and time limits on seating to ensure that tables and chairs can be properly cleaned during turnover,” says Camac. So before going to a restaurant, look it up to make sure, first and foremost, that it’s open at all. You should also check the hours to see when you’ll be able to go. And consider making a reservation, since guest capacity is limited at many restaurants.

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Re-opening Continues Across Densely Populated New York And New Jersey AreasNoam Galai/Getty Images

We wish you’d keep your dining party on the smaller side

As you probably already know, the larger the size of the group you gather in, the higher the risk of spreading germs. Yes, gathering outdoors is safer, but you should still be considerate about group size when you’re going to a restaurant, where you’ll obviously interact with employees. Mike Caglianone, server at Lola 42 in Boston, wishes you would limit your party size to four to six people. “Anything larger than six people makes it challenging for restaurants to accommodate during this new era of dining,” he says.

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New York City Enters Phase II Reopening As Some Retail And Restaurants OpenDimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Be aware

Distancing is the name of the game. Restaurants have put a lot of effort into staggering their tables and creating distance markers. Yes, outdoor restaurants are a fun, relaxed environment, but all bets are not off in terms of safety. “There will likely be marked spaces available for eating and drinking, and the tables will be placed further apart,” says Camac, adding that this specific distance varies based on federal, state, and local guidelines. “Be cognizant of where you are sitting and/or standing to help lower risk.”

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Re-opening Continues Across Densely Populated New York And New Jersey AreasNoam Galai/Getty Images

Be flexible

Restaurant employees, just like the rest of us, are dealing with unprecedented times. They’ve never had to deal with operating a business in circumstances anything like this. So don’t go in expecting a hiccup-free dining experience reminiscent of normal times. “We can’t always get the deliveries the way we used to,” says Lee Felty of Almond Restaurant with locations in Palm Beach, Bridgehampton, and New York City. “Menu items may change. Table sizes and availability are limited. Curfews are on and off. Costs are higher than ever.” That’s just to name a few things that restaurant workers are contending with—cut them some slack. Camac agrees and says to be flexible about timing, too. “The more flexibility you have with the time of your reservation, the better we can guarantee and serve you outside in a timely manner,” he says.

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don't be picky restaurant covid clean tableAnadolu Agency/Getty Images

Don’t be picky

This is in the same vein as “be flexible.” Caglianone wishes that diners would not be choosy about where they sit; every aspect of restaurants’ seating plans is implemented with safety in mind. “All the seating follows COVID guidelines, so it’s difficult to put people where they want to be,” he says. “If we make any exceptions, it throws off the distancing of the whole floor plan.” Likewise, he wishes you wouldn’t place an overly complicated order; stick to what’s readily available. “Consider your requests,” he says. “Don’t be overly difficult or expect things that may be impossible during these times.” Find out the things that will change at your favorite restaurant after COVID.

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D.C. Begins Phase 1 Of Reopening BusinessesDrew Angerer/Getty Images

Don’t make a stink about masks

Seriously. They might be inconvenient and hot, but they’re to keep people safe. Don’t be that person. If you want to enjoy the privilege of outdoor dining, the least you can do is follow the rules. “Whether you agree or disagree with the mask-wearing mandates, we ask that you keep that to yourself,” Olsson says. “We are required to do certain things by the state of Florida and you yelling at us doesn’t change that.”

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Waitress with a mask disinfects the tableMichele Ursi/Getty Images

Treat us with respect

This is always a good rule, pandemic or no, but right now, restaurant workers are experiencing a lot of stress. Remember that they’re also people with lives who are just trying to make a living. Olsson says it best: “Even though we are working, some of us have the same anxieties about this virus,” she sums up. “Some people can safely work from home or go into an office with very limited contact. Restaurant workers do not have that luxury…We want to work [and] get on with life as much as the rest of the world. We must do what we can to protect each other to keep safe during this pandemic.” Plus, find out why you should be tipping more at reopened restaurants.

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Happy business owner opening the door at a cafe wearing a facemaskandresr/Getty Images

Keep coming!

It’s a trying time for everyone, and above all, restaurants. While guests and restaurants alike are making sacrifices during this time, above all, restaurants want patrons! As long as you’re respectful and follow the rules, absolutely give the restaurants, many of which have struggled during this time, your business. It really is a win-win. “Thank you for coming back out,” says Felty. “2020 has been a doozy so far. We appreciate each and every person who walks through our doors.”

For more on this developing situation, see our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.

Meghan Jones
Meghan Jones is a word nerd who has been writing for since 2017. You can find her byline on pieces about grammar, fun facts, the meanings of various head-scratching words and phrases, and more. Meghan graduated from Marist College with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2017; her creative nonfiction piece “Anticipation” was published in the Spring 2017 issue of Angles literary magazine.