Don't Be a Jerk to My Staff When They Ask You to Wear a Mask

Thrown objects, cursing, loud scenes, and more are just part of what restaurant workers are having to deal with from customers.

Waiter wearing face covering handing menus to unmasked restaurant guests
Photo: Gary Burchell / Getty Images

Your friends who work in the restaurant business continue to be weary. At this point, 11 months into the pandemic, knowing you have to wear a mask in restaurants should not be a surprise. Back in October, I posted a message on Facebook, part exasperation, part explanation of how it feels to work in hospitality during the pandemic. Sadly, nothing has changed. In fact, it's gotten worse. The toll this takes on the staff of my family's barbecue restaurant is heartbreaking.

Just last weekend, a manager squared off nose-to-nose with one irate man, who, along with his wife and two young children, were in our waiting area as we finally opened for dine-in at 25% capacity. A couple in the dining room reported the man, saying they were uncomfortable because his mask was around his chin. When the manager asked him to please wear the mask over his nose and mouth, the woman said, "Who are you? The mask police?" as the man stood up and started yelling in our manager's face. Another team member came to separate the two, as the entire waiting area watched, wide-eyed. The next day, a similar incident occurred, with the man cursing and yelling as he exited the building. In another situation, a local business owner's family acted ugly. Half of the party refused to wear the mask and they left after getting their beverages, causing a loud scene. The husband yelled, "Your policy is bullshit!" at me as he angrily got in his car and sped away. Again, a pall fell over the tables nearby.

The request that people wear a mask when not at the table and when speaking to our servers, is for your safety and ours. This is common courtesy. We also have a contact tracing form in the event of an outbreak. Daily, we have people throwing the clipboard and pens AT our servers and on the ground. Some people yell the F-word at them and leave before being seated because of the policy. People write profanities on their masks and throw them on the ground as they leave. People curse and yell and make it uncomfortable and unpleasant for our staff and for everyone else dining around them.

Everything has changed in the restaurant world. Your favorite restaurants are fighting for their survival and their staff is trying desperately to remain upbeat and cheerful in the midst of fear, change, and uncertainty. At 17th Street, we talk daily about our mantra of remaining "cheerfully flexible." Instead of bending however, some of us are beginning to break. A restaurant is supposed to be a respite, a place where you can feel happy, warm, and cared for. That vibe is shattered when guests argue about the mask or other COVID protocol. The mood changes not only at that table, but at the surrounding tables as well. A good time is NOT had by all. Our crew, normally happy and upbeat and in love with their jobs, feels tense and frustrated and sad when these tense interactions and altercations occur on a daily basis. Continuing to smile as you serve a table of surly guests is nearly impossible.

We are here to serve you and offer a safe opportunity to dine together and feel normal. We have a drive-thru, home delivery, and curbside service for those who can't or don't want to wear a mask or who are uncomfortable dining around others. I don't know when it became OK to act like this, and it's especially troublesome when adults normalize this behavior for their children.

Our number-one goal is to keep our employees safe so we can continue to be in business. To work in the hospitality industry, you have to have a servant's heart. Restaurateurs are invested in their communities, in their employees, and in the happiness of their guests. We want to feed your hunger and nourish your soul. Please, let's work together and cheerfully and flexibly adapt to our changing world.

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