Dining Out and Masks: Who Is Required to Wear Them?

Special Contributor

Jonathan Dougherty
May 9, 2020

Update from Panera

This morning (Mother’s Day) I went to my local Panera to pick up breakfast to go. The interior of Panera is ridiculously clean and has been for weeks. All the staff are properly wearing blue masks  (I go there a lot and since they reopened, I have never seen an employee unmasked).

While picking up my egg and cheese on asiago bagels I noticed the dining room was not crowded. Not  a single patron had on a mask – except for one senior citizen eating at an outdoor table.

People waiting by the counter in the pick-up line were also unmasked and engaged in normal conversations (like the old days).

I asked the staff what they thought about customers wearing or not wearing masks. They said that it didn’t bother them at all. She said the tables were spaced apart so the customers should be fine and all the employees have to wear masks all the time anyway.

We joked that  it was not like going to some grocers, where not wearing a mask brings negative glares from all the other masked shoppers.

People want to feel normal while dining out and are not going to wear masks.


As restaurants in many states are beginning to welcome back dine-in customers, the diners have no idea if they are required to wear masks or not.

Since the federal, state and local governments don’t agree, how are you supposed to know?

Some governors have set “mask wearing requirements” for workers and customers. Some have not.

All states are different, but take Florida as an example:

Governor Ron DeSantis is doing a phased roll out to re-open businesses, but has not issued a statewide mask-wearing requirement.

However, some Florida cities and counties disagree.

Some Cities and Counties Do Not Agree With Each Other

City of Miami Mayor, Francis Suarez, mandated  that all visitors and workers inside restaurants must wear masks or face coverings at all times. Seems fairly straightforward.

But Miami-Dade County Mayor, Carlos Gimenez, says there is no such requirement for that county. He urges residents to wear a mask, but it is not mandatory.

Some Cities and Counties Do Agree

The City of West Palm Beach and Palm Beach County have both issued orders to their residents that require restaurant workers and diners to wear masks.

But Even If They Agree – How Does This Really Work?

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings issued a county-wide executive order on May 1, 2020, stating that workers and customers are now required to wear masks in businesses where they cannot maintain a distance of six feet. The Emergency Order No. 2020-12 Regarding Covid 19: Reopening Orange County and Requiring Social Distancing and Face Coverings, states

“Both employees and patrons of businesses that require employees and patrons to be within six (6) feet must wear a face mask or covering, unless the wearing of the patron’s face mask or covering would impede the patron’s service, in which case only the service provider must wear a face mask or covering.”


On The Road to Normal

The tables are now at least 6 feet apart and, per the Governor’s orders, the restaurants are now only allowed 25% capacity, so that should help some.

But, you cannot eat your dinner with your mask on. Restaurant patrons obviously cannot wear a mask in a restaurant the whole time. When do you wear it? When do you take it off? If you are taking it off – do you actually need to wear it in the first place?

Also, how do you really police the patrons once they are dining? What if they see a friend at Table 5 and stop by to say hello?

And what about the employees? I have seen some restaurant employees wear their masks just over their mouths and not their noses.

What about the types of masks and how effective, or non-effective they are? In Florida you can wear just about anything and meet the requirement; scarf, bandana, or homemade mask of any material seems to be okay with the orders.

As far as whether or not to wear a mask – call the restaurant. They will know.


About elizabethd

Elizabeth Dougherty has been cooking and writing about food intensively for more than ten years. She is the fourth generation of chefs and gourmet grocers in her family with her mother, Francesca Esposito and grandmother, Carmella being major influences in her early cooking years. As a teenager, her family sent her to Europe where she became focused on French and Italian cuisine. She survived a year and half of culinary tutelage under a maniacal Swiss-German chef and is a graduate of NYIT, Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality, Business and Labor Relations. Food And Travel Nation has won two news awards for content. Broadcasting LIVE each week, nationwide, on FoodNationRadio.com and stations around the country.

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