Safety and Dining Out at Disney Springs


Disney Springs has begun its phase one reopening and for many of us this is light at the end of a very dark tunnel! Our beloved Disney Parks have been closed since March due to the Coronavirus pandemic and while resorts and parks remain closed, some shops and dining establishments at Disney Springs are welcoming guests to return. One of the recent most popular topics I’ve been questioned about as a Dietitian is safety and dining out at Disney Springs. Here are my thoughts and tips on what you can do to manage your risk.

The short answer is “yes,” there is still a level of risk when dining out due to exposure to people around you. This level of risk depends on the precautions of the restaurant and safety measures put in place, as well as the person dining. Disney Springs has implemented safety measures across the entire property like social distancing, enhanced cleaning procedures, temperature checks, added hand washing stations, and reduced shared surfaces (like the removal of trash can lids and leaving doors propped open to avoid use of door knobs) and limited-contact guest services. (Click here for Disney’s official “Know Before You Go” statement.)

What safety measures are in place in Disney Springs Restaurants?

While a “zero-risk” situation is impossible at this point, the restaurants at Disney Springs are working to lower the level of risk several ways. New guidance for restaurants from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends general standards centered around intensified cleaning, sanitization, disinfection and ventilation. Reducing capacity to allow for a safe social distance (at least six feet) between tables set up both indoors and outdoors. Servers and restaurant staff, as well as patrons, are required to wear a mask. Patrons may remove their mask to eat and drink but should put the mask back on as to prevent their own droplets from spreading to others around them when they’re done. Masks help to contain droplets and lessen their spread from asymptomatic people, or those carrying the virus who have no symptoms.

Erin McKenna's NYC BAkery offers to go items
A short visit to Disney Springs with an Erin McKenna’s NYC Bakery to-go order makes for a low-risk outing

How can I decide if its safe to dine out at Disney Springs?

Even though dining establishments are opening again, some are doing so in areas where the criteria for progress against the virus suggested by the White House for a phased reopening have not yet been met. Florida’s reopening is a public-policy decision, while dining out is a personal one. When considering your safety and dining out at Disney Springs, check the latest data on coronavirus cases in and around Orlando before deciding if dining out is right for you and your party. If there are new cases occurring every day, then assume there’s a risk for transmission in public settings such as a shopping and entertainment center like Disney Springs. Additionally, consider your own personal risk. For those in high-risk categories, it is recommended to apply a higher level of precautions to stay safe and refrain from certain activities. Remember, you can still support these businesses by ordering take out or purchasing gift cards to visit again once risk has been more considerably reduced.

How can I be safe should I decide to dine out?

If you have decided to move ahead with dining out at Disney Springs, these are ways you can further manage your risk and safety.

  1. Keep your hands clean – The CDC have stated that coronaviruses are generally thought to be spread from person to person through respiratory droplets and that “currently, there is no evidence to support transmission of COVID-19 associated with food.” The biggest concern regarding coronavirus and food safety, per the CDC, depends more on general hygiene than contaminated food. The first line of protection when dining out is to always wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds prior to preparing, handling or eating food. This can be done in Disney Springs utilizing the many pop up hand-washing stations. It is also wise to bring your own bottle of hand santizer that is at least 60% alcohol to keep your hands clean when effective hand washing procedures are not available.
  2. Call ahead – If you chose to partake in table service dining, call ahead to book a reservation. Better yet, ask for outdoor seating where there is more space to distance from other diners and better air circulation. While you’re on the phone with the restaurant, ask about what safety measures are in place to ensure you are comfortable with the level of risk. The restaurant may direct you to their website or social media handles for more information.
  3. Pick your party – A gathering of groups of less than ten is still recommended. You may dine out with your residential partners and family members whom you have been quarantined with. The restaurant is likely to limit the number of people at the table as well.
  4. Look around to survey the restaurant – Make sure you see noticeable changes like less tables and chairs and eating areas spaced at least six feet apart. Servers, restaurant staff and fellow patrons should be wearing masks (if they are not eating) and you should notice a lack of crowds. If a group of people are congregating around the bar, it is likely that social distancing is not being properly enforced. If you change your mind about sit-down dining, don’t be afraid to voice your concerns. You may opt to order take out instead and enjoy your food in the comfort and safety of your own home.
  5. Be cautious of touching shared surfaces – You’ll notice many doors propped open around the property to avoid having to touch doorknobs at entrance and exit areas. Use a virtual menu or seek out a chalkboard menu instead of a handheld menu. Restaurants may use paper or plastic single-use cutlery as well as paper salt/pepper, sugar and condiment packets, and if these are not in use, ask your server when placing your food order. If you must touch a shared surface, such as to move your chair out, immediately sanitize your hands after.
  6. Safely store your mask when eating – Places like Wine Bar George provide guests with a brown paper bag and a hand wipes packet to safely store your face mask while eating. You can bring your own supplies to store your face mask when eating, as well as a back up mask should your original mask become soiled or unwearable at any time during your visit.
  7. Order cooked food instead of raw – As previously mentioned, experts maintain that the new coronavirus is not a food-borne pathogen, but it is still worthwhile to cook food to the proper internal temperatures since this would likely reduce any amount of virus on the food, assuming that the food isn’t contaminated by handling after it cools. Many viruses in general are heat-sensitive, and coronaviruses tend to survive for shorter periods of time at higher temperatures and higher levels of humidity than in cooler, dryer environments. Since this virus is new, there’s no current data or studies that have determined a temperature-based cutoff for inactivation, but it is likely to act similarly to other coronaviruses. (Note: this is specific to FOODS cooked at high temperatures and should not offer a false sense of security for hard non-food surfaces in the Florida heat).
  8. Skip the finger foods – Choose menu items which you can eat with clean cutlery instead of your hands. You may opt to cut your burger or sandwich into mouth size pieces you can pierce with a fork or remove chicken meat from a bone with a fork and knife when enjoying wings.
  9. Limit your stay – Many of us have been cooped up for months and we are eager to enjoy a relaxing meal without the work and clean up. However, keep in mind that the longer you stay in an area with potential for transmission of the virus, the greater the risk that something can happen. Once you’re done with your meal, head out and let someone else take your place in the limited capacity dining area, which is a courtesy to the business owner as well!

 

Remember, when it comes to safety and dining out at Disney Springs, it is a personal choice. Consider your environment, family members and personal risk before dining out and practice good personal hygiene when eating. If it is safest for you to wait, then do so. The magic of Disney Springs will return in to a safe environment in due time – and one thing we know for sure is that it will be worth the wait!

The information in this article is accurate as of press time. However, the situation surrounding COVID-19 is fluid and continues to evolve. Therefore, it’s possible that some data have changed since publication. While The Kingdom Insider aims to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities and travel by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department and primary care physician as resources when considering risk and travel.


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Jamie Lee McIntyre MS RDN is a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist and contributor to The Kingdom Insider for Disney food, nutrition and wellness - related topics. She is a practicing Dietitian with over 11 years of experience, and is a nutrition communications consultant providing content online and on air in broadcast media. You can find her online (www.JamieLeeRDN.com), at the finish line of a Run Disney race, or in the parks scanning menus, reading labels and trying new foods!