Let’s be honest: Texas restaurants haven’t really been enforcing the mask mandate. Abbott’s decision to lift the requirement, while reckless, won’t make a difference.

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Let’s be clear: when Texas governor Abbott issued a mask order last summer, it didn’t require all Texans to wear masks in public; it required Texas businesses to require that their customers wore masks while frequenting their places of business.

And let’s be honest: Texas restaurants, which have been allowed to offer some capacity of dine-in service for the better part of the last 12 months, have done little to enforce the mask mandate. And most restaurateurs have only cursorily observed the capacity limitations.

But then again, what could have restaurateurs actually done to enforce the mandate? While most are not reckless, people who have frequented restaurants over the last 12 months generally didn’t recognize the importance and urgency of wearing a mask. If they were hanging out in restaurants, they clearly didn’t put much stock in donning a mask for the safety of others. And after all, even with the mask mandate in place, you still needed to take the mask off to eat and drink.

Beyond the Quixotic challenges of enforcing mask mandates and dining capacity restrictions, the restaurants still open are mostly just trying to survive. When you’ve poured your life’s savings and work into a restaurant and you’re barely getting by, what are you supposed to do when someone enters your business without a mask and proceeds to order a $200 bottle of wine?

Our family decided early on not to frequent restaurants (although we support restaurants by doing take-out orders at least a couple of times a week). But I have spent time in dining rooms on more than one occasion over the last year. No one at our house is going hungry and we have little to complain about, all things considered. But the scarcity of work has forced me to take every copywriting job I can get. And sometimes, those gigs require my physical presence, whether to sample the food or take a photo of a chef or restaurant interior.

The bottomline is that restaurants in Texas have done little to enforce or even observe the business mask mandate. Even those restaurateurs who recognize the wisdom of mask wearing and social distancing have had little choice but to accept the fact that guests often refuse to wear masks. Nearly every occasion that I have spent time in a restaurant, masks were overwhelmingly “optional.” And I’m only relating my experience in Houston, a major metropolitan area. When we’ve traveled outside of Houston to visit family, we’ve seen restaurants packed with maskless guests as if there were no pandemic at all.

I believe that Abbott’s decision to lift the mask requirement is as reckless as it is myopic. But that’s not going to change what’s been happening in Texas restaurants over the last 12 months.

4 thoughts on “Let’s be honest: Texas restaurants haven’t really been enforcing the mask mandate. Abbott’s decision to lift the requirement, while reckless, won’t make a difference.

  1. While the reality is that restaurants are allowing people in with no masks, it is also a reality that Texas is in the upper half of all states for infected people (per 100K people). The purpose of political leaders is to show leadership, to take the heat when the going gets tough. While I do not agree with everything Gov. Newsom has done, California still has a lower per capita total than Texas. That’s the reality. Why make excuses for those actions?

  2. Tony, no excuses here. In fact, I call his move “reckless and myopic.” What I’m saying is that the mandate never worked at restaurants, at least in my experience in Texas. Thanks, as always, for being here.

  3. Like many things there is a wide spectrum of how restaurants are responding to the mask requirement. However, I have seen a very different response to the rules than yours where you say restaurants are not enforcing it.

    While like you I do not go to restaurants, but do frequent pickup, I have on numerous occasions while picking up food seen restaurants refused to seat people who came in without masks, tell people who were walking around a restaurant to go back to their table and get a mask on if they wanted to leave the table etc. I also see the tables that are no longer in restaurants, or tables blocked off with no seating plus increased spacing of the tables that remain. Maybe it is because your experience is in Houston and i am in that fine town that the Governor has called ” The Peoples Republic of Austin.” But here I see a lot of social responsibility and enforcement whether it is a BBQ restaurant or finer dining. But again, here as everywhere you can find a broad spectrum of enforcement or lack thereof

  4. David, thanks for being here. No doubt that there are countless responsible restaurant owners here in Houston as in Austin. But I think if you look closely enough, you’ll find that more restaurants than you think are actually following safety protocols with rigor. And again, as I mention, once you get outside of major metropolitan areas like Austin and Houston, you’ll find that people aren’t as interested in follow safety guidelines. And someday when this is all over, I’ll open some of my Nebbiolo for you and explain to you that in fact, Houston is a much more liberal and progressive city than Austin. I love Austin and as you know spent many years there. But even a Marxist like me gets along fine in the most diverse city in America.

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