Coronavirus
A face mask plus a shield can be a sign that the restaurant is taking Covid precautions seriously. A face mask plus a shield can be a sign that the restaurant is taking Covid precautions seriously.

Do you feel safe eating at restaurants? Weighing the risks in the ‘new normal’

Poll finds that the majority of readers feel somewhat safe or safe enough about eating out

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One of the wonderful things about living in Mexico is the fun (and affordability) of going out to eat.

But as the pandemic closed restaurants, cafes and street carts, we adjusted and stayed home; now, as food businesses across the country reopen, we’re trying to decide what to do.

When a Mexico News Daily online poll recently asked, “How safe do you feel about eating out now?” about 1,100 readers responded. More of you felt “somewhat safe” or “safe enough” going out to eat than “not safe at all.”

Mazatlán — with more than 800 restaurant members in its tourism association two years ago — has struggled, closing, opening and then partially closing restaurants and bars several times since March.

“In recent weeks, the city has returned to about 80% of its pre-pandemic nightly activity. This is in all respects, including eating out,” wrote Carlos, adding that most of the small hot dog and taco stands have reopened too. “I am heading out to eat regularly, but I assume the virus is everywhere, and exercise caution and restraint and cleanliness as well as I reasonably can.”

mnd poll
The September 14 poll revealed that 42% of readers didn’t feel at all safe about eating out.

Eating out “with caution” was echoed by many readers all over Mexico.

“I eat only at restaurants with outdoor patios or roof terraces now, since Covid,” shared Pat from San Miguel de Allende. “I meet friends and we wear masks, except when eating, and observe social distancing. I figure if the restaurant has been cleared by the city inspectors and if it’s outdoors with the opportunity for social distancing, I’ll chance it.”

Health experts say the coronavirus spreads easiest indoors, so dining out only at places with outside eating areas was mentioned over and over.

“Many restaurants are open-air where we live,” said Leslie, who lives in Chapala. “We also eat dinner in the early afternoons when there are fewer customers.”

That’s a strategy adopted by Linda in Mazatlán too.

“I usually eat at 5:30, and I’m usually the only one there,” she wrote. “On the rare occasion, if I feel it’s a little too crowded, I order to go. For the most part seating is outside, staff are masked, and temperature is taken when I arrive. So I feel safe eating out.”

San Miguel resident George explained the changes restaurants have made make him feel OK about going out to eat.

“So far, the town is taking Covid-19 very seriously. Restaurants that have reopened have to pass certifications and follow-up visits,” he wrote. “Face masks to enter and on the waitstaff. Tray of disinfectant at the entrance for bottoms of your shoes; temperature taken and a squirt of hand sanitizer. Tables are now well-spaced to provide distancing. No tablecloths and no place settings. The menu is on single-use paper. As you leave, someone immediately sanitizes the tabletop and seats that were occupied.”

“So, yeah, I feel safe. And these good folks really need the business,” added George. “Not sure how safe I’d feel in a restaurant I didn’t know.”

By and large, people feel comfortable eating out at familiar local places — and care about the folks running them.

“Once things started opening up in July, we were eager to start eating out again, not only as a way to get out of the house but mainly to give some business to local restaurateurs who were fighting to stay alive,” wrote Kinsey, who has lived throughout Mexico for 20 years. “With no exceptions, the dozen or so eateries we’ve visited during the past three months have bent over backwards to be as hygienic and conscious of social distancing protocols as humanly possible. We’ve never felt we were endangering our health by having someone else cook for us.”

Gillian and Karen said the same thing: “I feel safe at my favorite places. I know they’re very careful.” And from Mexico City, Shawn agreed he feels safe going out to eat — as long as it’s outside or an open area.

“I’m in my mid-40s and healthy, and I’ve understood this is going to go on for a very, very long time. Given that, I choose to find a way to continue to enjoy life even through the pandemic.”

Others are more cautious.

“We have to be convinced of the restaurant’s precautions and their consistency,” explained Sidmini in Ajijic, adding that they support local businesses by ordering in and “tipping freely.

“I know for myself how easy it is to forget. If the boss ‘overlooks’ stuff, we don’t go back.”

“The problem is not with the restaurants; the problem is when you’re eating, you can’t wear a mask. To be inside a restaurant without my N95 mask on, surrounded by others without masks, is a risk I’m not prepared to take,” wrote Sandra from San Luis Potosí. “Even outside at a street stand, if it’s a good one, there’s a crowd. I don’t want other people breathing on me.

While there may be city or state restrictions on how eating establishments can open, enforcement is another story.

Regular disinfection of tables is a good sign.
Regular disinfection of tables is a good sign.

“Here no guidelines have been strictly enforced, and masks are just beginning to be seen more rather than less,” added Sandra. “We have thousands of active cases, and all private hospitals are full and turning away Covid patients, Although I feel sorry for all the restaurant owners and employees, I’m not about to put my life at risk.”

Many people wrote that careful observation and assessment of what’s happening in their communities helped guide their decisions whether or not to go out to eat.

“It seems like there are a lot of people who aren’t as careful as we are as far as distancing, so being in a restaurant setting is not something we’re doing right now,” wrote Marnie from Mazatlán.

In La Paz, Paul only does take-out from his favorite restaurants.

“There are too many people that just are not following proper protocol,” he wrote.

Opting for take-out and home delivery seems to be a good solution for many: you don’t have to cook, you’re supporting local businesses and you’re not around people whose health you know nothing about.

Elisabeth in Lake Chapala said she’s been amazed at the number of food businesses that have adapted to delivering both prepared foods and groceries.

“Looking at tables to calculate risk, dining out is very high-risk inside, moderate even outside,” she said. “We’re sticking with delivery and pick-up for the foreseeable future.”

Still on the fence? In Monterrey the choice has already been made for some.

“If you’re 65 and older, you cannot “dine in” at restaurants,” wrote Alejandro. “Plus they may ask for ID for proof of age.”

Ultimately, this is an individual choice, and there’s no one answer. The coronavirus has upended life for the foreseeable future and we’re all trying to create our “new normal.”

“I’m trying to go out more now — not that I feel any safer, but because I have recognized that this is the new normal for a fairly long time to come,” wrote Suzanne from Ajijic. “At 81, I do not intend to spend what may be the rest of life in isolation. I’m very careful and always wear a mask when I’m out. My life today is filled with risk assessment. Still, I’m happy that I’m in Mexico and not in the U.S.”

• Tips for dining out safely

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