Eating Out in the Time of Coronavirus

If you’re like me, you care about restaurants and you love dining out, but you’re also trying to be responsible about self-isolation and social distancing. 

You might be worried about the survival of your favorite local eatery or the people employed there. You might also be anxious because the collapse of the hospitality industry is usually a harbinger of bad economic times ahead. The situation feels dire; as Eater puts it: as restaurants go, so goes everything else.

So what to do during this precarious, anxiety-ridden time? Here are a few things you can do to support your favorite restaurants and the local economy while still protecting yourself and others from COVID-19. 

(I’ll continue updating as more information becomes available.)

Order delivery or takeout—responsibly

As of the time of this writing, it is still safe to order delivery or takeout during the coronavirus pandemic, as long as you do it responsibly and with some extra precautions. Weigh the risks not only to yourself, but to the restaurant workers and delivery drivers who are putting themselves at risk of exposure to bring orange chicken to your doorstep.

If you’re picking up takeout, the risk of transmission is relatively low—currently, there is no evidence to suggest the coronavirus can be transmitted through food, according to the CDC and FDA. It’s primarily transmitted through droplets in coughs or sneezes. The risk with takeout is that you’re leaving your house and you’ll come into contact with people. Curbside pickup is a good option to minimize that risk. Pay with a card to minimize cash exchanging hands and potentially transferring germs. Better yet, pay over the phone in advance if you can. When you get home, discard the packaging and wash your hands.

With delivery, there is the added question of whether your staying home to prevent spreading germs is putting an underpaid delivery driver at risk. There’s a trade off, and it isn’t perfect. But gig workers also rely on that income, especially during these uncertain times. If you choose delivery, order from the restaurant directly, so all profits go to the restaurant. Third-party apps take a commission from sales (although some are choosing to forgo those profits for a time, in light of the crisis). Use contactless delivery options and ask for the food to be left outside the door to minimize human contact. After bringing the food inside, discard the packaging and wash your hands. It’s also a good idea to disinfect countertops and other surfaces before and after you eat.

Tip generously

A 20% tip is the norm in good times, but if you can afford it, add extra when buying food during the coronavirus pandemic. After all, these people are putting themselves at risk every day just to feed you and make your life easier. If you ordered through a delivery app, leave high ratings, as most gig workers depend on those ratings for more jobs and therefore more income.

You can also leave a review for the restaurant on sites like Yelp—it’s free, doesn’t take much time, and restaurants need community support to stay afloat.

Photo by Anna Tukhfatullina Food Photographer/Stylist on

Buy restaurant gift cards

If you’re working from home these days, cooking for yourself, not driving anywhere, you’re likely saving a bit of money. Consider using those savings to support your favorite restaurants by buying gift cards for later. One day, when this is all over, you’ll want to go out and use that gift card to celebrate. Some of the bigger restaurant groups also sell merch online, which is another nice (and longer-lasting) way to show your support.

Of course, this option depends on whether restaurants have the infrastructure to support gift cards or purchasing online. Some of the smaller, independent restaurants are also offering gift card options; you just have to call or email to request one.

Here are a few more things you can buy to support restaurants right now.

Take advantage of restaurant promotions

Several restaurants are running discounts during the coronavirus outbreak. Check social media—Instagram is a great way to find out about promotions and discounts at restaurants near you. 

Use these promos to order a few more items than usual and file the food away in your fridge/freezer for later. Buy beer directly from the breweries. Stock up on discounted wine at local restaurants and wine shops. Some restaurants are even turning into corner shops, selling staples like eggs, milk, and toilet paper in addition to cooked meals. Just remember to wipe down the containers before you put them away.

Contribute to a relief fund

Many restaurant groups and grassroots efforts have organized relief funds for workers affected by the coronavirus. Here is a list of relief funds you can donate to.

World Central Kitchen, the nonprofit organization founded by celebrity chef José Andrés, is also delivering meals to those in need. Find out more ways you can help.

Contact your representative

So far, the government’s response has been to offer an economic stimulus package to support corporations, even though those hardest hit by the economic repercussions of this coronavirus pandemic are the working class, lower earners, and gig employees. Many culinary media outlets are reporting that restaurants won’t survive without a bailout. 

If this doesn’t seem right to you, contact your local representative and demand that the government’s response include help for local businesses. Here is a script for calling your elected representative to advocate for a restaurant bailout. 

Read more on why restaurants need a government bailout if they are to survive.

Photo by Igor Starkov on

Consider buying dining bonds

I had never heard of dining bonds until I read this article. Created by a PR team, dining bonds are short-term restaurant investments that turn a profit later. For example, if you bought a $75 dining bond today, it would be worth $100 in the future when you redeem it. For these bonds, you just have to wait 30-60 days. The idea sounds a bit scammy at first, but several restaurants have already signed up to participate in dining bonds, so it seems legitimate.

Support local restaurants as much as you can

It’s terrifying when everyone is hoarding beans, grocery store aisles are empty, and every message is telling you not to leave your house. Which you shouldn’t, except for essentials. (Really, please stay home. Don’t meet people. Don’t go to public places.) But we all have to remember—at the individual and the government level—that after the pandemic passes, there has to be something left to recover.

As of March 19, 2020, California is under shelter-in-place orders. As long as they’re still letting us pick up takeout from local restaurants, I will be ordering as often as I can.

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Common Stock

The geometric chicken on their logo says it all: this is a place that understands fried chicken.

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