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New Mask Rules Mean SF Diners Must Keep Their Faces Covered for Most of Their Meals

Restaurants must also break up any crowds gathered outside

Pride Day In Mexico
SF’s new mask rules require diners to keep their faces covered unless they’re actively eating or drinking.
Photo by Gerardo Vieyra/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Residents of San Francisco have been legally required to wear face coverings — widely believed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus (COVID-19) — since April, and last week California Gov. Gavin Newsom extended that mandate across the state. Now San Francisco is upping its mask game yet again, issuing new, stricter rules for mask use while dining — rules officials say will be enforced starting on Wednesday.

The new mask law is part of a revised best practices guide for the city’s restaurant owners, a directive from Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, the Health Officer of the City and County of San Francisco. The full document is embedded below, but for diners, the main thing to know is that if you’re not actively putting food or drink into your month, your mask must remain on.

Here’s the exact language of the order:

[Customers] must wear face coverings any time they are not eating or drinking, including but not limited to: while they are waiting to be seated; while reviewing the menu and ordering; while socializing at a table waiting for their food and drinks to be served or after courses or the meal is complete; and any time they leave the table, such as to use a restroom. Customers must also wear face coverings any time servers, bussers, or other Personnel approach their table.

It’s on restaurants to enforce this rule, but that’s not the only behavior food workers are now expected to police. According to the order, restaurants must also make sure that crowds of patrons do not gather within 20 feet of their businesses, as “such gatherings create public nuisances and a menace to public health.”

Restaurants that fail to enforce mask or crowd rules face “suspension or revocation” of their ability to operate outdoor dining. Persistent scofflaws face “notice(s) of violation” from the Department of Public Health, including possible orders to close until the violations are rectified.

That means the bottom line is this: Failure to mask up or avoid crowds doesn’t just increase your risk of COVID-19, it endangers the restaurant you were probably hoping to “support.” And, anyway, restaurant workers have way better things to do than to break up crowds or tell you to cover your face back up. If these rules are too challenging to follow, it might just be better to remain at home.