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Mask Etiquette Tips for Dining During the Pandemic

In other words, how not to breathe like a jerk

Sidewalk seating at Tacolicious Patricia Chang

In San Francisco in the year 2020, if you want to sit down and eat outside a restaurant, this we all know to be true: you need to wear a mask. Both the state and city health departments say that it’s mandatory. The Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) put up signs in black and white. And yet, we’re not accustomed to wearing masks as part of our dining culture! And some eaters are still turning up their noses — forgetfully or carelessly — at the practice, especially after a few glasses of wine.

But we are all in this pandemic together, and for the health and safety of staff and patrons, it’s time to start minding those masks. Here’s how to not breathe like a jerk while dining during a pandemic.

First of all, if anyone needs a refresher, it is mandatory to wear a mask at a restaurant any time you’re not eating or drinking. That includes while waiting to be seated, reading the menu, talking to a server, waiting for food, or going to the restroom. But in terms of etiquette, and the finer points of mask wearing, here’s what the pros recommend.

Put your best mask forward.

For the most part, people have had really good attitudes…. Sometimes they peek a head in, to inquire about a table, and might start to enter. Usually they just forgot, and they’ll immediately comply. But no one has been a jerk. — Mat Schuster, chef owner of Canela

Temp check is the new coat check.

Oh, everyone comes in wearing masks. Some customers are surprised when we ask to check their temperature before being seated. But no one has given us any trouble at all, they’re even eager to have it checked. The thermal scanner is kind of cool. They’re intrigued. — Doug Collister, director of marketing of China Live

Please review the safety card located on the table in front of you.

It seems like every restaurant has a tabletop card or flyer detailing what we all need to do. Many — including Tacolicious — include a quick review. As if going out to a restaurant right now isn’t weird enough; now you’re getting “instructions” on how to sit at the table?! But it’s incredibly necessary to pay attention. If we need to make a literal song and dance of it, I’m all for choreographing our staff into a six-foot-spaced kick line at every seating. — Korey Reynolds, director of people at Tacolicious

Reframe expectations for safety first.

Luckily in San Francisco, we don’t have as many people having tantrums, like you see in other parts of the country. We are not putting up with those things. We’ve really turned a corner. It’s not about inconvenience or annoyance anymore.… It’s almost like the airlines, and the changes that happened after 911. It’s comfort versus safety. We’re not taking orders if you don’t have a mask on. — Mat Schuster, chef owner of Canela

Do try to take a hint.

It is fairly common for guests to quickly forget to re-mask when a server approaches or when casually chatting with the table next to them. We try to be as hospitable as possible. There’s a lot of less-than-graceful miming of “mask up, please” and countless gentle reminders offered by staff who are doing all they can to protect themselves (and their tips). — Korey Reynolds, director of people at Tacolicious

Don’t revert to old habits.

I wouldn’t say that we see an uptick of careless unmasking during our happy hour. But the excitement and allure of normalcy that accompanies outdoor dining certainly seems to encourage people to linger in their maskless-ness a bit longer than they otherwise might. It’s a natural inclination that requires (to borrow from Danny Meyer) constant gentle pressure to change. — Korey Reynolds, director of people at Tacolicious

Do get comfy with the culture.

Chinatown feels like one of the safest places in town, because the Chinese have been doing this forever. They wear face masks as part of their normal life. Many of our employees already came to work with masks on, before the pandemic… Now, even families with small kids, everyone is wearing a mask. No one has been rude. It’s been a great sense of community…. We miss your faces. We’d love to see you, even with your mask on. — Doug Collister, director of marketing of China Live

But maybe don’t make out at the table.

We did have one couple that started to make out after their meal. In the past, that would have been a side story — “Look at table three, they’re smooching!” But we were like, “What do we do?!” We politely told them to put their masks on. They left. — Mat Schuster, chef owner of Canela


2272 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94114 415-552-3000 Visit Website


2250 Chestnut Street, , CA 94123 (415) 649-6077

China Live

644 Broadway, , CA 94133 (415) 788-8188 Visit Website