Restaurants across the U.S. creaked back to life this week, and along with the reopening has, predictably, come unethical labor practices. One of those included an unidentified restaurant in Dallas, where, according to a CBS News report, employees are expressly disallowed from wearing any kind of face covering at work. The eatery is part of the Hillstone Restaurant Group, which has locations all over Southern California, Texas, Florida, New York, and more states.
According to the report, as the restaurant prepared to open to 25% capacity, management told staff they were required to not wear face masks. An employee expressed discomfort, then was told to think about it, then was removed from the schedule. Another employee was reportedly told that if they declined to follow the no-mask rule, they would not be eligible for rehire. It’s one thing to not require diners to wear masks, but an entirely other to tell people who have to be there for work they can’t protect themselves. Servers interact in close quarters with dozens of total strangers every day. And as anyone who’s dined in before can tell you, it’s pretty hard for a server to take your order from six feet away, making the task of order-taking quite dangerous amid a pandemic.
But this also brings up an interesting question about the shifting definition of hospitality amid a pandemic, and how malleable the whole concept of politeness really is. In normal times, sure, a server wearing a face mask isn’t ideal, as it’s hard to understand them and you feel like they’re about to put you under for an operation. And also, face masks look stupid. But hospitality is, at its core, about making guests feel comfortable. So wouldn’t it be ideal to assure them that your restaurant is doing all it can to mitigate COVID-19 spread? Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like speaking through muffled cloth is less rude than potentially spreading a highly contagious and deadly disease. Maybe I just don’t get Texas etiquette.