Restaurateurs not thrilled about having to enforce NC's mask rules

Posted November 24, 2020 5:08 p.m. EST
Updated November 24, 2020 7:04 p.m. EST

— The tighter mask mandate that takes effect Wednesday across North Carolina requires that people cover their faces at restaurants, except when "actively eating or drinking."

Both restaurant owners and customers said Tuesday that the rule will be difficult to enforce and could discourage some people from eating out during the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the state has required people to wear masks in public for several months, people usually uncovered their faces while seated at a table in a restaurant. The new rule won't allow that, and businesses that don't enforce the requirement could be cited by law enforcement.

"It’s one more requirement, one more burden being placed on restaurants, and it feels like restaurants are singled out a lot in the COVID pandemic," said Elizabeth Turnbull, who owns Copa in downtown Durham.

"When the mandate says a mask must be worn at your table except when actively eating or drinking, what does that look like? What happens when you walk over to a table and somebody clearly wasn’t doing it, but now they’re sipping their water?" Turnbull asked. "It just puts restaurants in a difficult position, and we are in the business of hospitality and of service. We are not in the business of epidemiology and enforcement."

Jimmy Johnson agreed that restaurants shouldn't be the ones having to enforce the rules, saying the situation would make it less likely for him to eat at a restaurant.

"It would just be really hard, especially if you have kids and you try to make your kids wear a mask. That could be really challenging," Johnson said. "I don’t think it’s their job to enforce it, but they’re kind of being put in that spot by the government, pretty much."

"It’s just one more hassle," Jordan Pierce said. "When you go to a restaurant, it’s a little bit about the experience, and when you’re constantly having to pull your mask up and down and up and down, it’s less enjoyable."

Matt Kelly, who owns Saint James, Mateo, Mothers and Sons and Vin Rouge in Durham, said "mask tantrums" have been few and far between at his restaurants and that most customers already follow the guidance of covering their faces inside restaurants.

"Our guests have been awesome. Our communities have been awesome. People have been respectful. People have been understanding," Kelly said. "Our entire team is empowered to say something if necessary. If something arises, we have a management team."

But Turnbull said workers who rely on customers for tips shouldn't also be put in the position of angering those customers by acting as mask enforcers.

"It puts people in an awkward position when they are dependent on that person’s opinion of them for their income," she said.

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