As coronavirus cases continue to surge in Houston, a city which could soon become one of the most affected by the virus in the United States, wearing a mask while dining out is literally the least we can do.
In Harris County, all people entering a restaurant are required to wear a mask, but there are still plenty of Houstonians who are refusing to wear face coverings. It is, perhaps, not surprising that adults who have complained incessantly about being “imprisoned” in their comfortable apartments would act like petulant children when asked to wear a mask. This small step can dramatically reduce the spread of coronavirus in confined spaces like restaurants, where social distancing isn’t always possible.
Matt Chow, who operates Chinese eatery Chow Wok, just closed his restaurant’s dining room after dealing with unruly customers who refused to wear a mask. “Some simply forgot and went back to their car,” Chow told Eater. “Some stormed out before we could tell them about our curbside ordering options.” Meanwhile, when Greenway Plaza restaurant Feges Barbecue announced that it would require diners to wear masks on Facebook, some commenters vowed to never visit the popular barbecue spot again.
Other spots, like Jewish deli Kenny and Ziggy’s, have received negative online reviews from patrons who didn’t want to wear masks. Whether it happens virtually or in the actual establishments, this kind of behavior puts restaurant owners and their staff in restaurants in real danger, both physically and financially, and it’s time for these whiny, inconsiderate refusals from diners to stop.
Violence toward restaurant workers is unacceptable, but it’s been happening across the country at a heightened rate during the coronavirus pandemic. In May, a man shot a cook at a Waffle House in Aurora, Colorado after being told to wear a mask, and earlier this month, a man who refused to wear a mask threw hot coffee and punched a 7-Eleven clerk in Indiana. Considering how enraged some Texans are about the mask requirement, it could be only a matter of time until this kind of violence happens in a local restaurant.
According to Harris County’s masking requirement, businesses that fail to enforce the rules faces $1,000 in fines, and that’s per violation. Which means that every single person who wanders into a restaurant without a mask on puts that establishment at the risk of losing significant amounts of money in a time when revenue is ridiculously hard to come by. These diners might think that they’re supporting restaurants with their dollars, but forcing them to pay fines because they don’t want to wear a mask is definitely not support.
Because Texas governor Greg Abbott has refused to allow cities to implement fines on consumers that would put the onus on individual diners to wear masks, it’s possible that restaurants could face fines even when they’re actively trying to enforce social-distancing guidelines and mask-wearing. While there are some establishments that have done a terrible job of enforcing these rules — like the Houston bar shut down by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for violating reduced capacity limits — most restaurants are genuinely trying to do what is best both for the health of their workers and their customers, and they shouldn’t have to pony up cash because their customers won’t cooperate with the rules.
And then there’s the issue of who has to enforce these rules. Because of the pandemic, servers and restaurant managers have become the unlikely gatekeepers of crucially important public health mandates while working on the front lines of a virus that can be deadly. It’s a real dick move to be rude or aggressive with servers at any time, but that’s especially true right now. These workers are literally putting their lives at risk to serve brunch and cocktails to entitled diners, and they shouldn’t have to fear being assaulted by customers who don’t want to follow the rules.
To be sure, the best way to keep restaurant workers safe from both violence from customers and the coronavirus is for everyone to just stay at home, but that’s clearly not going to happen. Since reopening, restaurants have been flooded with diners because pretty much everyone is bored with being stuck at home and tired of their own cooking. Everyone is anxious right now, but that doesn’t excuse abusive behavior.
It’s extremely unfortunate that restaurant workers, who are paid terribly and often lack health insurance, are now on the front lines of enforcing these requirements, but that’s what a complete lack of competent governance from Abbott and other officials has created. Literally the least we can do, as coronavirus cases “explode” across the state of Texas and hospitals fill up with COVID-19 patients, is put on a damn mask if we insist on going out in public.
Update, 5:59 p.m. — This post has been updated to remove a reference to negative comments made on Fluff Bake Bar owner Rebecca Masson’s Facebook page.