The appeal of this approach is clear. Hiding and unmasking repeatedly can be awkward, especially when you have a fork in one hand and a knife in the other. Besides, conversing with a mask is a bit like swimming in a wetsuit. It can be done, but it takes more effort. If you have reason to believe that everyone at your table is healthy, the temptation to talk like you used to, using the full range of lower facial contortions from the smirk of a joke. inside the open mouth of astonishment, can be very strong.
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has berated restaurants for blatantly ignoring social distancing and masking rules. A state task force cited hundreds of establishments for violations and suspended the liquor licenses of some, often when exposed patrons were in tight groups.
The official guidelines for wearing masks while sitting have been much lower. It’s rare to find a restaurant that applies or even mentions the advice, despite the preponderance of signs telling customers how to pay through Venmo or display a menu by scanning a QR code. The downtown Frenchette restaurant is unusual for having a note on its website asking diners to wear masks “when a member of staff is at the table.” I went there the other night. The only people masked were those who worked there.
Another downtown restaurant, King, asks customers in person to wear masks while talking to waiters. “Sometimes we get rude responses,” Annie Shi, one of the owners, recently wrote on Resy, “but most customers appreciate that we take care of our staff and, therefore, of them.
Other restaurateurs may not be aware of the advice from the health department. Or they may have heard of mask-hating thugs who have threatened workers wearing masks in other parts of the country. It’s very likely that restaurateurs are just afraid to do anything that might drive customers away. In a summer when a thunderstorm can wipe out overnight earnings, every table counts.
Writer and editor Corby Kummer, whose Food and Society program at Aspen Institute worked with the James Beard Foundation to prepare detailed Covid-19 restaurant safety protocols, is now working on what he calls a “code of conduct” for the guests. The rules, which could be a condition for making a reservation, would be simple and few in number: Whether you are seated indoors or outdoors, do not fill the host stand or washrooms, wear a mask when you are away from the table and respond to polite requests from staff. Even these modest requests can make some owners nervous.