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Enforcing Mask Policies in Restaurants



With the COVID-19 pandemic having no clear end in sight, many areas are beginning to enforce strict mask policies that apply to people spending time indoors, especially when social distancing may not be possible.


Masks have been shown to be effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19, especially when paired with social distancing measures and proper hand hygiene precautions. While they’ve been shown to be effective when used correctly, the enforcement of mask wearing has proven to be extremely controversial. The divisive policies have been met with resistance by some, and embraced by others who wish to stop the pandemic’s rapid spread and enjoy some sort of return to normalcy.


With so many areas moving towards the enforcement of masks indoors, restaurants will inevitably have to deal with the issue in some way or form - especially if they wish to continue operating during the early stages of reopening. If your municipality, province, or state enacts a mask wearing regulation, your restaurant, staff members and customers will be forced to abide or face potentially serious penalties. This means that you and your staff members will have to deal with the possibility of being subjected to criticism regarding mask policies and potentially unruly behaviour from those who don’t wish to follow the guidelines.


Take the pressure off your employees

Most people in Canada are not averse to wearing a mask to reduce the spread of COVID. In fact, 78% of Ontarians (the most in any province) reported that they would be willing to wear a mask when social distancing is not possible. While most people have no problem with wearing a mask, as with other things, the loudest voices will often prevail. Your employees are the most immediately customer-facing members of your team, and as such will be the ones subjected to customer complaints, defiance, and general anti-mask sentiments.


Many restaurant workers will find themselves suddenly acting as the “bad guy” when enforcing COVID protocols - not an easy task when you rely on tips, especially since lowered capacity has undoubtedly already had an effect on tips. This added pressure could prove to be devastating for your employees, so it’s recommended that you try to take the pressure off employees in any way possible. Training employees on how to deal with disgruntled customers will prepare them to deal with these situations, communicate with customers on how protocols are in place, and will allow them to better identify when to hand off escalating situations to management. If training proves to be too much, you might want to consider the idea of putting the responsibility of mask enforcement in the hands of management.


Enforcement should come from the top down

Now is the time for employers and managers to step up and enforce the rules from the top down. If your restaurant has a mask policy in place, you need to be prepared to lay down the law with all customers without making exceptions or putting employees and customers at risk. You’ll also need to take charge of communicating with customers about why these policies are in place, what you’re doing to protect employees and customers, and what options they have if they don’t wish to wear a mask. That’s not to say there’s no room for compromise - customers who don’t want to wear a mask could easily be seated on the patio, with mask-wearing customers dining indoors. Unfortunately, this would only work seasonally, meaning you’ll be forced to enforce mask policies during the fall and winter seasons.


The case for mask policies in restaurants

Customers want to feel comfortable and safe - especially in the midst of a pandemic. Having strict mask policies in place for your staff and customers ensures that your customers will feel as comfortable as possible during these challenging times. At the end of the day, these measures are only temporary - people who don’t want to wear a mask will naturally gravitate towards establishments without a policy in place, and people seeking comfort and safety will seek out restaurants with strict enforcement. Restaurant owners will ultimately have to decide whether enforcing mask policies makes economic sense, is worth potentially alienating a portion of your customers, and if it’s realistic to expect managers, employees, and customers to uphold and follow the rules until the pandemic subsides.


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