It's Time To Take This Party Inside . . .

I feel more confident--and safer--dining inside restaurants than going to a friend's house for dinner. Five reasons why I believe this is the stance to take.

Since March, I’ve been doing everything humanly possible to stay healthy, but I am not going to live in a bubble. I am going to live, enjoy Chicago’s restaurants as much as possible, and listen to experts on how to safely dine and drink.

Between interviewing dozens of chefs, restaurateurs and other industry experts on the LIVE! Culinary Series and seeing them in action at their establishments, I’ve observed them enforcing the strictest measures to keep their guests safe. But it is also up to the diners to heed their polite requests (“Keep your mask on when interacting with waitstaff,” “Wear a mask when you’re going to the bathroom”) in order for us all to stay healthy.

Now, as we get into these colder months, there’s no doubt many people will be hesitant to dine inside. That’s totally understandable. Many are concerned about ventilation and whether the air inside will be safe for them to take off their masks. And know that some restaurateurs are pulling out all stops to continue outdoor dining as long as possible with "igloos,” heating lamps and more. But you won’t catch me out there. I’m trusting my gut, and I’m taking my party inside.

Here are five reasons why I believe this is the stance to take:

No one wears masks at dinner parties—and they’re not enforced. Many people feel comfortable hanging out with their friends and family at other people’s homes. I’ve been invited to quite a few, and I’ve declined all invitations. I have seen the photos all over social media and no one is wearing masks, and no one is certainly enforcing them. And, in Chicago, the rule is no more than six people. Yet, I’m hearing anywhere from 15 people to 30 people attending these gatherings. It’s also really difficult to social distance at someone’s home—unless they live in a mansion—and you don’t know where all these people have been.

Restaurants have the strictest sanitary rules. They may be stricter than hospitals. Your friends may be super clean and neat freaks, however, are they taking people’s temperatures at the door and sanitizing tables, chairs, etc., when someone gets up? People have assigned seats/tables at a restaurant, and the waitstaff is expert at spacing them and still creating a good vibe. I will take my chances at an establishment boasting sanitation certificates. Also: Restaurants in hotels are doubly clean.

Time limits. You get 90 minutes up to two hours at a restaurant, then you’ve got to go. Your friends won’t make anyone leave. Plus, if you’re like me, you show up on time for a dinner party at someone’s home, and you’re one of the last to leave. You cannot do that a restaurant!

Stick to familiar territory. Nervous about heading to a restaurant? Visit a spot that’s close to home or one that you’ve been to before. Neighborhood restaurants, in particular, are great about making everyone feel comfortable, particularly diners who clearly haven’t been out in awhile. They’re also the types of places that will be patient if you call and have questions about their sanitary procedures.

If possible, request a large table. Starting Thursday, Oct. 1, capacity limits on businesses, including restaurants, gyms, bars and “non-essential” retailers, increase from 25 percent to 40 percent. Even when this miracle happens, requesting a larger table isn’t a bad idea. If you’ve got six in your party, request that the table should be big enough for 10. That way, you’ll be spaced out to an extent. And, if you don’t feel comfortable when seated too close to another party’s table, say something. Most restaurants will be happy to oblige you.

[Yours Truly with the staff of Eleven Eleven Chicago. Photo by Matthew Lowell]