Cafés and restaurants’ return: clients to wear masks “except when eating”

DGS health authority ‘orientation’ for cafés and restaurants’ return to business in 10 days time involves disinfecting premises “at least six times a day”, tables two meters apart, with clients “conscious of the different conditions, leaving the use of a mask at their discretion, except when eating”.

The interesting detail in all the do’s and don’ts is that these new ‘rules’ are now described as orientation, not measures enforceable by law.

Some of the demands however appear overly-ambitious: husbands and wives/ partners are to be allowed to sit as closely together at tables as they always have, but people from different households must “assure recommended physical distancing”. How this can be achieved at a regular sized restaurant table is not explained.

Returning to the list of items that have to be disinfected – highlighting taps, banister rails, door knobs, tables and chairs – the DGS says menus and automatic payment terminals will need disinfecting after every use (ie more than six times a day).

Clients are asked to “give preference to electronic payment” for their meal, and “avoid touching surfaces or unnecessary objects”.

Again, all of this is reeled off as if people really will be clamouring for the chance of a night out surrounded by rules and bottles of disinfectant.

Spontaneity too seems to have taken a back seat. DGS advice is to ‘book ahead as much as possible” and once in the establishment – having disinfected hands at the entrance – keeping a distance from others of at least 2 meters. This includes any trip to the rest rooms.

Says Expresso, “to go to the bathroom, the circulation of people must occur in circuits where it is possible to keep a distance from people who are seated at tables”.

Taps “where possible” should be automatic, and the use of hand-dryers that blow hot air is “not recommended”.

As the orientation stresses: “Restaurant and drinking establishments by their nature can be places for the transmission of infection”, both via direct or indirect contact, thus in this initial stage of returning to business, additional measures are necessary. These of course extend to all members of staff who must wear masks, gloves, wash hands frequently and even change gloves each time they move from “a dirty area to a clean area”.

Esplanades and terraces are to be ‘most recommended’ in this initial reopening of the hospitality sector, with buffet-style areas advised against, as well as situations where clients eat or drink standing up.

One measure however – suggested in the early stages of Portugal’s outbreak – appears to have fallen from the list: that of measuring clients’ temperatures as they arrive for their meals.

For now there has been little reported on restaurants’ reactions to the new demands on their business models.

Catering remains one of the worst affected sectors with widespread concern that some if not a considerable proportion of businesses will be unable to survive this crisis.