Is Your Restaurant Staff Wearing Face Masks?

If the answer is no—64 percent of your guests may not return

A colleague of mine went to a restaurant the other day and opted to dine on the patio. She was surprised to find that the server was not wearing a mask. Her reaction? She considered leaving, stating that, in our current environment, she felt this to be a very reckless practice.  She is not alone.

According to Toast’s, Your Guide to the Restaurant Guest During COVID-19, guest’s primary considerations are no longer value and food quality. Now, safety trumps these concerns, with the majority suggesting that safety measures such as PPE and staff interactions determine whether they will return to a restaurant.

While over 50 percent of guests said the quality of food was important, a whopping 64 percent said that seeing staff taking safety precautions and wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) was the most important consideration. In addition to the use of masks, 52 percent of guests were most concerned with the cleanliness of tables, surfaces, and menus.

States Mandating Face Coverings

It’s clear that best practices would suggest all employees wear a face mask. Some states are mandating this through Executive Order. States requiring workers wear facemasks in restaurants and bars include Alabama, Arkansas (exception: BOH), Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois (recently passed additional regulations requiring patrons to wear face-covering when interacting with staff), Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana (indoors and in counties with four or more confirmed and active cases of COVID-19), Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

Keep in mind, that many localities have their own provisions concerning face masks.

When researching this information, I realized that I should probably have written out the states that do not require face masks for restaurant employees—very few and far between.

It also made me wonder just where my associate dined and in what state? Unless she was visiting Alaska, Iowa, or Oklahoma, I’m fairly certain that she was at a restaurant in a state that required masks for restaurant employees. Which also made me wonder, what are the legal and financial ramifications restaurants face if their staff is not wearing a face covering?

As will all things COVID-19 related, every state and some cities have their own regulations. To list a few: Minnesota’s order states that businesses (and their owners and management) may be subject to criminal charges (up to a misdemeanor, $1,000 fine, and not more than 90 days in jail), civil enforcement, and fines (up to $25,000), and regulatory enforcement. In Illinois, businesses can be fined up to $2,500. In Wisconsin, violations are enforceable through a civil fine up to $200.

Keep in mind that many states and cities are requiring employees to wear masks both inside and on outdoor patios. Fortunately, most establishments are stepping up to the plate.

Restaurants Requiring Staff to Wear Masks

According to Black Box Intelligence, my colleague’s recent experience at a restaurant should be rare. Their poll, conducted on July 16, suggests that 96 percent of operators are requiring masks for all restaurant staff. Of course, as the days roll into months, hypervigilance can be replaced with laissez-faire. The restaurant industry was not for the faint of heart before the pandemic struck, now, only those with fierce determination and a boundless supply of energy are finding their way through the new restrictions and reduced capacity.

Ensuring Your Restaurant Guests Feel Safe

Toast also found that technology was becoming more important to guests, particularly tech that supports non-contact. When asked what technologies were most important in this current environment, the top four were drive-through and contactless/mobile payment options, as well as pay at table technology and online ordering.

The pandemic has, in many ways, changed the very nature of how we communicate. When was the last time you remember shaking someone’s hand? The communication channels between you and your guests are no different, and more important than ever as consumers determine which restaurants they can trust and dine at safely.

Toast found that 48 percent of guests check a restaurant’s website for COVID-19 related updates. Calling came in second and checking Google listings came in third at 36 percent and 30 percent, respectively.

This information is a prominent reminder to make sure that your website is updated with the steps you’re taking to ensure your guest’s safety, as well as your Google listing, Yelp account, and social media profiles. If you haven’t yet, set up a meeting with your staff to go over effective communication and appropriate responses to guest’s questions regarding the precautions you are taking around COVID-19.

Know your state and local guidelines and regulations and make sure your staff understands the importance of adhering to them. When the pandemic first broke out, there were rumors, both true and false, flying off social media and the internet in numbers too great to comprehend. Now, we know a little more.

One study from JAMA showed that adherence to universal masking policies reduced SARS-CoV-2 transmission within a Boston hospital system, and a report from Morbidity and Mortality Weekly showed that wearing a mask prevented the spread of infection from two hairstylists to their customers in Missouri. Another study reported in Health Affairs found that states with mask mandates experienced a slowdown in daily COVID-19 growth rate, and yet another study found that a mask-wearing man flying from China to Toronto, who later tested positive for COVID-19, did not transmit the disease to any of the 25 people closest to him on the flight.

One day, this too shall pass. In the meantime, let’s do all we can to protect ourselves and each other.

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