Most people told me that they wouldn’t eat at just any restaurant; they’d have to see “precautions” in place. Peoples’ desired precautions ranged from the waitstaff wearing masks to air purifiers to seeing tables spaced apart with partitions separating them. One couple, told me, charmingly, that during the pandemic they will eat only in restaurants they are already “familiar with,” as though knowing your way around a menu can protect you from an invisible virus.
The thing is, the precautions restaurants advertise aren’t all very effective, according to experts. One woman who was dining out with her boyfriend told me that she likes to see temperature checks at restaurants. That makes sense, because retail establishments have been ostentatiously taking their patrons’ temperatures for months now. But temperature checks are security theater; not everyone who has COVID-19 has a fever, and a fever can be caused by something other than COVID-19. Measures such as spacing tables apart and installing air purifiers can be helpful, experts told me, but they can’t eliminate the risk entirely. Partitions don’t do much, Huffman says: “They could actually help the aerosol pool on one side of it by disrupting the whole ventilation flow.”