In the past, table manners existed simply to make the act of dining in company more pleasant: the sight of someone else’s half-chewed food is just gross. But now, as Robert Sietsema points out in Eater NY, “the placement of a fork is no longer of such importance as, for example, how to stifle a cough or when to clean your hands. Not to be too dramatic, but such considerations can now be literally a matter of life or death.”
And so Sietsema has provided a list of rules for eating outdoors in a pandemic. Some you’ve heard before, although chewing with your mouth closed and sneezing or coughing into the crook of your elbow have extra resonance now that we know that droplets of spit and mucus are the most likely spreaders of the coronavirus. Others are COVID-19-specific.
For instance: wear a mask at all times, except when you are eating or drinking. Yes, the official guidelines may say that you don’t have to wear a mask when you’re seated at the table, but there will almost always be servers, bussers, and even random pedestrians walking within six feet of you. “The safety of the serving staff is of primary importance,” Sietsema writes. After all, they are they ones at work. For them, going to a restaurant isn’t really a choice.
Along the same lines, tip generously! (Somewhere, in her secret lair, the Salty Waitress is smiling.) “Since the waiter’s job is now much more demanding, complicated, and even dangerous, leave a larger tip. Twenty-five percent is a good benchmark these days.” But if you tip more, especially on a small check, no one will mind.
There are plenty of other recommendations—always bring hand sanitizer and an umbrella!—but the new rules of etiquette are essentially the same as the old ones: think of the other people around you and don’t be an asshole.