The No. 1 Worst Mask Mistake You're Probably Still Making

The realities of the pandemic don't change just because you're eating lunch.

Stay six feet apart. Wash your hands. Wear a face mask. By this point in the pandemic, the guidelines set forth by major health agencies and leading medical voices have been repeated so many times, they're practically ingrained in us. But even as the debate over following these simple steps rages on, there are still a few instances in everyday life where rule-abiding citizens are also slipping up. In fact, most of the public is still making a big mistake when it comes to not wearing a face mask while seated at a restaurantThe New York Times reports.

As bars, restaurants, and cafes continue to reopen nationwide, customers tend to follow the guidelines to wear a mask up until they are seated, The Times notes. However, many remove their face coverings once they've sat down, which goes against the advice of many agencies and experts who say that the realities of the pandemic don't change just because you're ordering your favorite appetizer. This includes New York City's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, whose website says that "face coverings are not required when diners are seated, but wearing a face covering as much as possible once at the table is the best way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission for restaurant workers and dining companions."

A woman seated at a table without a face mask orders from a waiter wearing PPE

Some in the restaurant industry say such behavior is a slap in the face to service workers, who may be desperate enough for a paycheck to put their health on the line by showing up and doing their job. "The social contract has changed in the most straightforward of ways: By going to a restaurant now, you agree to take reasonable measures to avoid making workers sick," New York magazine food critic Alan Sytsma recently wrote. "They, in turn, agree to do the same. To argue against any of this is to simply say you do not care about the welfare of other people. You do not care if someone else gets sick, becomes unable to work, or worse. By refusing to wear a mask, you say that your perceived comfort is more important than another human being's safety."

And others point out that covering your face is important for protecting not only restaurant workers, but the other diners around you.

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Getting customers to wear masks while they're not eating or drinking has become especially challenging for restaurant employees in states where masks are not mandated. For example, Thunderhead Brewing in Kearney, Nebraska, recommends employees wear masks and has face coverings available for staff, but they're not required for customers. "It's just basically up to the customer," the restaurant's general manager, Jamie Schlegelmilch, told The Washington Post. "The best thing we can do is encourage them and hope it will be okay."

One server told the newspaper that only about 10 percent of her customers wear masks at any time in the restaurant and that those who don't will sometimes mock her for wearing one. "I used to talk back," she said, "but I have to make money somehow, so usually I just stay silent."

In fact, the server even stopped wearing a mask because it led to better tips, she told The Washington Post. She made $30 or $40 a shift while wearing a mask, but without one, she makes over $100. And for more on when it is safe to take off a mask, You Can Safely Keep Your Mask Off If You're Doing This, Says Dr. Fauci.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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