- Some restaurants are shutting down or closing dining rooms back up after employees faced harassment and violence from anti-mask customers.
- Restaurants in states including Texas, California, and Michigan have announced plans to once again shutter dining rooms, citing rude customers who refused to wear face coverings.
- Other restaurants are struggling to find ways to protect employees without closing dining rooms or shutting down entirely.
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As restaurants contemplate reopening dining rooms across the US, some are facing a new concern – how aggressive anti-mask customers might treat employees.
Numerous restaurants have decided to close dining rooms or shut down entirely in response to some customers’ treatment of workers.
Hugo’s Taco closed both of its locations in Los Angeles in late June, citing combative customers who refused to cover their faces.
“Staff have been harassed, called names, and had objects and liquids thrown at them,” Hugo’s Tacos said in a statement posted on social media. “A mask isn’t symbolic of anything other than our desire to keep our staff healthy.”
Los Angeles requires people to wear a face covering whenever they’re in public, which includes trips to taco stands and other restaurants. Enforcing these requirements, however, can fall on restaurant workers.
Hugo’s Tacos said most customers had been respectful and kind, and hundreds have contributed to a GoFundMe that raised roughly $US45,000 for Hugo’s Tacos’ workers. Still, for Hugo’s Tacos and other restaurants, the handful of mask opponents are too much of a risk.
Goodonya Organic Eatery in Encinitas, California, announced this week that it would once again stop offering dine-in service, saying customers had lashed out at workers who asked them to wear masks. In Houston, Eater reports, Chow Wok did the same after growing tired of “unruly customers” who stormed out when asked to wear a mask.
Halcomb’s Taco Casa in Pocahontas, Arkansas, recently announced similar plans to close its dining room, as did Mexican Fiesta in Dearborn Heights, Michigan.
“Unfortunately, there were multiple situations where our staff was disrespected and treated rudely,” Mexican Fiesta wrote in a statement on Facebook. “The safety of our customers and staff is our number one priority so we have made the tough decision of closing our doors to the general public until further notice.”
Research increasingly indicates that wearing masks can greatly reduce the spread of the coronavirus, Business Insider’s Aria Bendix reports. One model from the University of Washington estimates that if 95% of the population in the US were to wear masks, it could prevent roughly 33,000 coronavirus deaths by October.
As more restaurants are allowed to reopen dining rooms, many are struggling to find ways to deal with anti-mask customers short of shutting down altogether.
Some restaurants, including major chains such as Waffle House, have posted signs about social distancing and (in areas with mask requirements) face coverings. Waffle House and Dunkin’ are also among the chains that have started selling branded face masks to customers.
While rude customers are nothing new, some conflicts linked to masks have put employees in dangerous situations. In May, a customer shot an employee at a Waffle House in Aurora, Colorado, after being turned away for not wearing a mask. This week, a McDonald’s employee from Oakland, California, went to a hospital after being assaulted by a customer who refused to wear a mask, she told Business Insider.
“In 30-plus years of studying retail and crisis situations, we have never seen a situation of customers being so rude to hourly employees,” Larry Barton, a professor of crisis management and public safety at the University of Central Florida, told Business Insider’s Mary Hanbury in May.