When Can I Dine Indoors Again After Being Fully Vaccinated?

Eating outdoors COVID-19.

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Key Takeaways

  • While experts say it's likely safe to eat indoors after being fully vaccinated, it's still best to practice caution for the safety of others.
  • Try opting for an outdoor table when dining out or gathering with a small group in your household for dinner.
  • New research and growing vaccination rates suggest that the U.S. could reach some level of herd immunity before the end of the year.

The restaurant industry has been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. But even as vaccination rates grow, the jury’s still out on whether it’s fully safe for you to swing by your favorite restaurant again and snag a booth indoors once you've been vaccinated.

Though the vaccines diminish the chance of severe illness and death from COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) hasn't released guidelines on whether vaccinated people can safely return to dining indoors. Before you decide to dine out there are also a few other factors you should be considering like protecting others and COVID-19 variants.

Dining Out & CDC Guidelines

The CDC hasn't released new guidelines for restaurant and bar operators since December, but they've continued to reopen across the country.

In early April, the CDC updated its guidelines for the fully vaccinated—that is, for those who have waited two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or a single dose of Johnson & Johnson. If you’re not vaccinated or have only received one dose of a two-dose vaccine (such as the Pfizer or Moderna), you should still follow all COVID-19 precautions.

For those who are fully vaccinated, the CDC says you can:

  • Gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask or staying 6 feet apart
  • Gather indoors with unvaccinated people of any age from one other household (for example, visiting with relatives who all live together) without masks or staying 6 feet apart, unless any of those people or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19

Therefore, it's OK to dine indoors with fully vaccinated people as well as with people who aren't fully vaccinated, as long as they all come from the same household and aren't at increased risk. But this likely applies mostly to small household gatherings since restaurants are not currently screening for vaccination status.

What This Means For You

While experts say eating indoors after being fully vaccinated is likely safe, they recommend practicing caution if you decide to go. Try getting a table outdoors, wear a mask at all times when not eating or drinking, and minimize your time spent at the restaurant.

Dining Out and Protecting Others 

While fully vaccinated people are at low risk of contracting the virus, there’s no way to know if everyone in the restaurant shares the same status. Recent data suggests the vaccines can actually curb virus transmission, but it is still being studied. 

Because of this, some caution should still be taken when eating out—not only for your own safety but for the safety of all. More contagious virus variants that may not be fully covered by the vaccines add another element of uncertainty to the equation.

At the same time, Monica Gandhi, MD, MPH, physician and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, tells Verywell that she'd be very comfortable recommending her vaccinated patients to start indoor dining again. "In fact, I am taking my 87 and 80-year-old parents, now fully vaccinated, to their first indoor restaurant tomorrow evening after over a year," she says.

But the trip isn't without caution, Gandhi adds. "To be respectful of the staff and unvaccinated in the restaurant, masks when not eating and distancing should be maintained," she says, as per the CDC guidelines.

If you decide to dine out, consider taking a cautious approach. The CDC currently recommends:

  • Eating outdoors, if possible
  • Wearing masks at all times, both indoors and outdoors, except when you are actively eating or drinking
  • Avoiding crowds and sitting at tables spaced at least 6 feet apart from people you don’t live with, both indoors and outdoors
  • Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before eating and when exiting the restaurant or bar
  • Minimizing the time you spend in the restaurant

Take It Slow

With vaccination rates rising and new data coming to light, the overwhelming advice is: Take it slow. Before eating out, you could have a group of five or six fully vaccinated people over for dinner or try your best to grab an outside table at your favorite restaurant.

Current projections show some states reaching herd immunity as early as this summer, so a return to a new normal may be sooner than it appears.

And Gandhi says new research looks promising. A University of Texas study in late March, she says, found the rate of COVID-19 infection after vaccination in real-world studies could be as low as 0.05%.

"Vaccines protect you almost 100% from what matters the most, which is severe disease," Gandhi adds. "Therefore, I am very comfortable with those who are vaccinated indoor dining."

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Considerations for restaurant and bar operators.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). When you’ve been fully vaccinated: how to protect yourself and others.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Science brief: background rationale and evidence for public health recommendations for fully vaccinated people.

  4. World Health Organization (WHO). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): herd immunity, lockdowns and COVID-19.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Personal and social activities.

  6. Daniel W, Nivet M, Warner J, Podolsky DK. Early evidence of the effect of SARS-CoV-2 vaccine at one medical center. N Engl J Med. Published online March 23, 2021. doi:10.1056/NEJMc2102153

By Sarah Simon
Sarah Simon is a bilingual multimedia journalist with a degree in psychology. She has previously written for publications including The Daily Beast and Rantt Media.