On May 18, restaurants, cafés, pizza parlors, trattorias, gelato and pastry shops were allowed to reopen in Italy for dine-in or eating/drinking at the counter; this is a further easing of lockdown restrictions since May 4, when take-out and delivery were allowed for the first time since the national lockdown began on March 9.
Restrictions and safety precautions remain in place; let’s look at them point by point to give you a sense of what you can expect from the dining/coffee experience.
- Where dine-in is possible, there must be a minimum of one-meter distance between tables and between customers at the same table, unless they are ‘congiunti’ (spouses, cohabiting partners, partners of civil unions, people who are linked by a stable emotional bond, relatives up to the sixth degree, as per the government’s definition). In the case of congiunti then, a smaller table can be prepared by letting the restaurant staff know in advance.
- There’s no limit to the number of people who can sit at the same table, but, considering the minimum distance to be respected, it’s unlikely you’ll have very crowded tables. Some regions are considering mounting moving plexiglass barriers in order to reduce the distance between fellow diners.
- The one-meter rule applies to coffee shops as well, where you can now drink your espresso at the counter, as long as the one-meter distance can be guaranteed.
- Inside establishments that do not have seats (such as small cafés), entry will be allowed to a limited number of customers at a time, based on the characteristics of each individual place, so as to keep the recommended one-meter distance between clients.
[You may have your 'espresso al bar' again, but only if the one-meter distance rule can be enforced.]
- It will be mandatory to wear a face mask for any movement within the establishment, such as entering until you reach your table, going to the bathroom, paying at the register.
- It’s not possible to lay out shared foods like nibbles, nuts, chips, as it was customary at aperitivo times in many cafés. So no aperitivo with your friends at the counter (but it can be served at the table).
- Buffets are also forbidden, so for now you may forget about those buffet aperitifs that Italians seem to enjoy so much (often with food of such poor quality that not sure this is a bad thing after all).
- Reservation at dining establishments is recommended, but not mandatory. The restaurant must keep a list of their customers for at least 14 days (for contact tracing).
- Waiters and staff will have to wear a face mask at all times. They must clean their hands frequently with disinfecting solutions, and before each table service. Gloves are not required.
- Disinfecting gels must be present throughout the establishment for customers to use, especially at the entrance and near the toilet.
- Where possible, outdoor spaces should be favored, always respecting the spacing of at least 1 meter.
[Lunch with a view? Yes, now you can, but you must keep your one-meter distance.]
- The register station may be equipped with physical barriers and screens; alternatively, staff must wear a mask and have hand sanitizing gel available. In any case, electronic payments, preferably at the table, are recommended.
- Air conditioning on recirculation mode should be avoided, while ventilation as high as possible should be in place, including opening windows.
- At the end of each table service, all surfaces should be disinfected. Reusable tools and containers such as salt and oil cruets, should be avoided as much as possible; where present, they should be sanitized after each use.
- Whenever possible, restaurants should offer the possibility to consult their menus online and on mobile phones; when not possible, menus should be in plasticized print, so that they can be easily disinfected after each use. Disposable paper menus are also allowed (we hope this option is not widely used given how eco-unfriendly it is.
If a business does not respect the rules in place, in addition to paying a fine, it will be closed for a period ranging from 5 to 30 days.
A final note: each individual region can adopt its own protocol. Regions must monitor the situation on the number of new cases on a daily basis; based on these data, they can introduce further easing or restrictive measures.
Read about Italy's new phase starting on May 18 and how our content editor Georgette Jupe experienced her first outing going for coffee and gelato.