10 New Rules for Eating at Restaurants, According to the People Who Work There

"You're fully vaccinated? That's great, but don't use it as a reason to break the rules."

masked server with dining customer
Photo: Willie B. Thomas / Getty Images

Indoor dining is opening up, vaccinations have become more accessible, and, collectively exhausted by the past year, we're seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. But we're not quite there yet, and American restaurants are still facing enormous challenges.

"It's obviously confusing, because everything is changing so quickly," says Christina Shoults, general manager of Maydān in Washington, DC. Shoults notes that working at restaurants has actually gotten harder this past month, as more people are vaccinated. "I was reading some guest reservation notes the other day, and someone wrote that they were celebrating the end of COVID," she says. "Which is super not what's happening."

The team at Maydān is asking guests to keep their masks on when anyone approaches the table, which Shoults recognizes can be cumbersome. However, she says, "I have some people on staff that still haven't gotten their first vaccine. My staff health and our guests' health is my number one priority."

While restaurants are adapting to quickly-evolving realities and new local policies, servers, hosts, GMs, and other restaurant staff are the front line communicators of the rules. "We're just asking people to be flexible," says Shoults.

Below, find the ten new rules for dining inside of a restaurant, according to the people who work there.

1. Arrive on time ...

"Please be respectful of your reservation time—show up on time, order and eat in a timely manner. Restaurants are working at capped capacities and need to reseat your table." —Ann Hsing, COO of Pasjoli in Santa Monica, and President of the Independent Hospitality Coalition in Los Angeles

2. ... And don't linger at the table.

"Be mindful of reservation time limits. Most restaurants are forced to maximize their guest count each day/night and ignoring or missing a reservation time negatively affects the other guests' experience." —Tim Wiggins, co-owner and beverage director of Lazy Tiger and Yellowbelly in St. Louis, MO

"Please don't overstay. With staffing issues and occupancy caps, each table is more important than ever, and timing is everything. Eat, enjoy, get out." —Jess, a server in Washington, DC

3. Expect slower service.

"Please be patient if things take longer than expected. Most restaurants are understaffed and have to now take extra steps of service to follow new regulations as a result of the pandemic." —Ann Hsing, COO of Pasjoli in Santa Monica, and President of the Independent Hospitality Coalition in Los Angeles

"Staffing is a challenge in our industry across the country right now, so also being understanding that your hosts, servers, bartenders, etc. are—and have been—taking a risk to reopen and serve our communities. Also, while staffing challenges and comfort levels return to normal there will be a period where your favorite restaurant or bar may not be able to provide the previous experience, however, they have had to do an amazing job of pivoting and adapting in many ways over the past year." —Jacob Wright, director of operations at Wild Common in Charleston

"Be patient, please. We all want to get back to rocking, busy restaurants running like well-oiled machines, but we're still rebuilding our teams and supply chains, getting vaccinated, and frankly healing from the last year. Most restaurant workers didn't spend quarantine gardening or baking bread, we spent it pivoting to to-go and feeding initiatives. A lot of us are breathing our first sighs of relief as we get vaccinated and just beginning to process what we've been powering through for the last year." —Amarys Koenig Herndon, chef and owner of Palm&Pine in New Orleans

4. Tip more than you would pre-pandemic.

"Our friends in the restaurant industry have been through hell over the past year plus. As our customers go back to indoor dining, many of them are buying a few bottles to take to a beloved BYO. If you're bringing your own wine to an establishment, tip as if you've bought the bottle at the restaurant. At the end of the day, wine service is wine service." —Dave Govatos, owner of Swigg in Wilmington, Del.

"As a server, I wish people would stay at home and wait until we are actually out of this because we're both close and so very far away. However, I'm aware that's a lot to ask of our populous after so many dissenting views. So, to those that choose to head out into the world, please tip your server well and actually do us the favor of opening the menu before yelling about four options we have never carried." —Randle, a server in Los Angeles

"We're making less money, either getting lower tips or no tips. Honestly, if you can't afford to tip someone who's risking his or her life for you to have your enjoyment, don't bother, stay home." —Gabriella Mlynarcyzk, bartender/general manager/beverage director in Los Angeles

Read more: What Restaurant Workers Wish You Knew Right Now

5. Keep your mask on unless you're eating or the restaurant says otherwise.

"We opened Leonelli Restaurant & Bar on April 1st for the first time in over a year. It's both an explicit and implicit rule in our dining room that guests are free to take their masks off while seated, but must wear them if they leave their table. —Liz Benno, operations manager at Leonelli Restaurant & Bar in New York City

"Remember that celebrating vaccinations is wonderful; however, restaurant workers were not prioritized and may not be vaccinated yet, so please wear your mask and be kind." —Tim Wiggins, co-owner and beverage director of Lazy Tiger and Yellowbelly in St. Louis, MO

"I think it's the same rules we've seen for months now—masks on when standing and, preferably, while not actively eating or drinking." — Sother Teague, master mixologist and beverage director of Reserve by Amor Y Amargo in New York City

6. Follow the rules, even if you're vaccinated.

"You're fully vaccinated? That's great, but don't use it as a reason to break the rules. Definitely don't give the restaurant workers a hard time about the rules or explain why you feel you shouldn't be subject to the same rules as unvaccinated guests. Do let your server know you're fully vaccinated if you would like to ... it's nice to hear, but doesn't make you exempt from rules." —Amarys Koenig Herndon, chef and owner of Palm&Pine in New Orleans

"At this time during COVID-19, we aren't letting our guard down at our restaurants and bars and are maintaining a sense of security and comfort for our guests. … Basically, we are erring on the side of safety and behaving as if no one is vaccinated, whether it's guests or staff, even though our staff is well on their way to being fully vaccinated. There is no way to overdo it at this time. Altering behavior now would be preemptive. We want everyone to sail out of this as unscathed as possible." —Ravi DeRossi, founder and Proprietor of Overthrow Hospitality in New York City

7. Don't get too close to the staff (and, for the love of god, don't touch anyone).

"My main priority is the safety of my staff, who are like family to me. Therefore, amongst the new guidelines for on-site dining, social distancing and mask wearing for all staff and guests are my top priority. Ensuring all staff are double masked, wearing gloves and washing their hands thoroughly, as well as ensuring guests maintain proper distance from our sushi chefs, means everyone stays safe and guests can continue to enjoy a beautiful meal." —Aya Makino, general manager of Sushi Note in Los Angeles

8. Keep your group small for now.

"Avoid going out with big parties. Don't make the restaurant feel guilty by pleading your case via email for your 12-top because you are all vaccinated. Our staff may not be vaccinated yet, and our top priority is ensuring their safety." —Tim Wiggins, co-owner and beverage director of Lazy Tiger and Yellowbelly in St. Louis, MO

9. When possible, make your reservations for off-peak days or hours. And show up.

"Make your reservation for off-peak days or hours and order take-out. Everyone wants to get back out there and dine out now that cases are down and vaccines are up, but many restaurants are still operating at limited capacity for a variety of reasons and everyone can't eat at 7 p.m. Don't cancel last minute or no-show for your reservation. First of all that's just rude! secondly, we're turning away walk-ins to save you that table for the coveted 7pm slot that you may or may not show up for. Many restaurants are having almost the same number of cancellations on weekend/peak times as the actual number of guests served." —Amarys Koenig Herndon, chef and owner of Palm&Pine in New Orleans

"Because digital systems give people a feeling of anonymity, some people (a small percentage, to be sure) are more inclined to try and game the system, by double booking, or repeated no shows, because they don't think anyone notices." Mark Strausman, Chef of Mark's Off Madison in New York, NY

"With reduced capacities in many cities and states, restaurants desperately need two seatings. Insisting on a 7 p.m. booking doesn't help restaurants achieve that goal." John Winterman, co-owner Francie in Brooklyn, NY

Read more: Early Bird Dinners Will Help Restaurants Thrive Again

10. Keep complaints to a minimum.

"Think again before assuming the worst and complaining about 'unfriendly' or 'distant' service. Yes, we are not as chatty tableside. Yes, we do keep more distance from the table when you are ordering. We are doing the best we can to be hospitable while socially distancing." —Tim Wiggins, co-owner and beverage director of Lazy Tiger and Yellowbelly in St. Louis, MO

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