The patio outside of Roma Cafe and Bramhall Pub. Photo by Judy Witherell

Now that restaurants have opened for outdoor dining, it’s once again possible to have a drink in public. Since everybody is out of practice and things have changed so much, I decided to talk to a few people who have been out testing the waters (and by waters, I mean vodka) and come up with a few things you should know before venturing out. (For starters, don’t forget to change out of your PJs.)

The people I talked to, altogether, had been to 11 places in downtown Portland since June 1. In some cases, they had visited the same place more than once. The spots they visited were Boone’s Fish House & Oyster Room, the combined outdoor area of Bramhall and Roma Café, CBG, the Garden Café (part of the Regency Hotel), The Independent Ice Co., Mash Tun, Petite Jacqueline, The Porthole Restaurant & Pub, Portland Lobster Company, Timber and Yosaku.

Without exception, they had extremely positive experiences at each location. As one customer said, “The restaurants are doing a terrific job of adhering to the guidelines without making you feel like you’re in a war zone – it almost felt normal.” But there are still several differences in the experience that are helpful to know beforehand, so here are some things to keep in mind:

Cocktails in Bramhall and Roma’s shared outdoor area. Photo by Judy Witherell

While some restaurants are no strangers to outdoor dining, others have had to pivot significantly to make that a possibility. Even the old-timers have had to make extensive changes to their layouts and procedures. As restaurants figure out what does and doesn’t work, they continue to make tweaks (including to their hours of operation), so don’t be surprised if things happen differently on a repeat visit.

Pay close attention to signage. Many restaurants have set up separate entrances and exits so that patrons don’t have to walk past each other when coming and going.

Most patrons wear masks until seated at their table, and put them on again when heading to the bathroom. Servers remain masked the entire time.

While not all places require reservations, most encourage them. My friends got in at most places without much of a wait (if any), but several of the places were quite full (within appropriate public health limits and guidelines), and reservations are likely to become increasingly necessary as more people start going out and the tourists arrive.

Most places now use a new paper menu for each patron; some are using disposable cups, plates and utensils as well. Most places are offering their full menus, but a few are starting out with a more limited selection.

Most places no longer accept cash; several accept only one credit card per table.

Most places take your credit card from you to run it and then have you sign either with a pen or with your finger. Either way, you might want to bring your own pen and hand sanitizer with you, if you’re the one paying.

The Garden Cafe at the Regency Hotel. Photo by Aaron Morris

A much higher percentage of places now allow dogs – good news if you’re worried that your dog will have separation anxiety once you start leaving home again.

No more table-hopping. At live music venues, it used to be common to grab a better seat when other patrons left. Now you’re assigned to a specific table and expected to stay there. On the plus side, no more uncomfortable bar stools, and social distancing means that you have more room between tables.

Finally, if your cocktail seems weak, keep in mind that you’ve been pouring your own drinks since mid-March. Chances are you’ve built up a tolerance for much stronger drinks than what you’ll be served in public. Don’t ask me how I know this.

Angie Bryan is a former diplomat who is enjoying getting acquainted with her new home in Portland, one cocktail at a time.

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