If you’re feeling a little on edge about the prospect of dining after staying home during the pandemic, you’re not alone.
Earlier in 2021, a survey by Lifesum of more than 10,000 people revealed two in five (40%) felt “nervous or apprehensive” about going out for dinner because of COVID-19.
Dubbed fear of dining out, or FODO, it’s pretty normal to feel worried about returning to restaurants. After all, we’ve spent the last year mostly being told staying home is safe, going out is bad.
If your brain isn’t quite on board with the concept of going for brunch in a public place where there’ll be ~ gasps ~ complete strangers, that’s to be expected.
Equally, if you’re practically bouncing off the walls with excitement about meeting your mates for a Sunday roast indoors at your favorite local, that’s normal too – 79% of those surveyed said they were “looking forward” to dining in a restaurant again and embracing JODO (the joy of dining out).
Why do we get FODO?
Therapist and counseling directory member Shelley Treacher says FODO is a “completely normal response to the abnormal situation of coming out of isolation caused by a killer virus.”
One reason we may feel this way, she suggests, is because our physiological systems have got used to being on guard. “It may take us a while to come out of the body’s threat cycle response, to calm down, and to get back to normal,” she told HuffPost UK. “We have been vigilant for so long.”
On top of that, it’s also possible that some of us have developed social anxiety after being isolated from others for so long. As such, we may have a natural inclination to stay indoors.
If this rings true, it’s important to be kind to yourself. It’s OK to take your time when returning to socializing, says Treacher. Saying ‘no’ to a dinner invite doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you, just that you are being cautious. “This is a good survival skill,” she adds.
If you’re on the fence about eating out, it might help to check the latest facts about safety and the virus: what are the cases like in your area? How can you stay safe while out and about? Could you dip your toes in with a first meal out that’s with people you trust at a restaurant or pub you’re familiar with?
“Allow yourself to return when you are ready,” says Treacher. “This is another exceptional circumstance, so it will help to take it with care.”
How to dine out safely
Throughout the pandemic, Professor Paul Hunter, from the Norwich School of Medicine at the University of East Anglia, has been sharing advice on COVID safety.
He tells HuffPost UK that data suggests going out to eat in a restaurant is not one of the riskier activities when it comes to the transmission of coronavirus, although he notes it is obviously more risky than staying at home.
Here are his tips for minimizing your risk if and when you do go out to eat:
1. Dine ‘out’ out. If the weather is good and the restaurant has outside seating, still think about eating outdoors. This is because the risk of outdoor transmission is far lower than from indoors.
2. It’s OK to be picky. Try to choose a restaurant that’s clearly committed to making your visit as low risk as possible. Are there signs up about its COVID safety measures? Are there one-way systems in place? Does the place look clean and are the tables wiped down properly between meals? Are the staff wearing face coverings?
3. Eat at quieter times. Try and choose times to go when the restaurant may not be that busy. “If the place is packed, consider going elsewhere,” he advises.
4. Stay hygienic. Wash your hands or use sanitier on entry, after visiting the loos and when leaving.
5. Cover up. Continue to wear your face mask or covering whilst moving around the venue, including when you go to the toilet.
6. Seating plans are OK. Even if you’re eating with people from another bubble, try and sit opposite someone you live with so you’re not facing someone else.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.