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Frustrated by Diners That Don’t Understand Mask Laws, SF Restaurants Hang Graphics-Heavy Signs

Restaurants say that the city’s latest health orders weren’t passed on to diners, so they’re taking matters into their own hands

Golden Gate Restaurant Association

Outdoor diners will see even more signs posted at San Francisco restaurants this weekend, but this time the graphic depictions of what patrons are required to do aren’t from the city. Instead, these placards come from SF’s restaurant lobby, which says that the city hasn’t done enough to communicate a month-old mask law to citizens.

Back on July 1, San Francisco officials issued changes to the city’s mandatory face covering law that were specifically aimed at restaurant-goers, saying than that 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.

And yet, says Laurie Thomas, executive director of lobbying group the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, workers at restaurants — who, like it or not, have been unofficially deputized as the city’s mask cops — are still faced with patrons who flout the regulations. Thomas says that she doesn’t think most violators are playing out some sort of red vs. blue political battle, saying instead that the scofflaws have “a lack of understanding of the July 1st guideline change,” a confusion that’s even shared by some restaurateurs.

Thomas says that that confusion first arose on July 1, when the new guidance was issued by San Francisco’s Department of Public Health (DPH). Typically, when there’s a significant policy change, the DPH issues a press release that media outlets will then report on, or even calls a press conference at which officials explain the new health orders. That didn’t happen in this case: Instead, it was just posted to the DPH website, without fanfare.

“Unfortunately,” Thomas says, “the posting ...didn’t reach people,” and even though her agency shared the information with its members, much of the the dining public was still in the dark. Without the city spreading the message that one must mask up when one is not actively putting food or drinks into one’s mouth, the GGRA took matters into its own hands, creating graphics-heavy depictions of what’s required.

It’s unclear if the masks will prove effective, as businesses just started posting them Thursday night. The hope, Thomas says, is that “a clear visual aid like this poster will help eliminate any pushback” from patrons to the workers tasked with enforcing these rapidly-changing rules. And the sign could be a boon at busier times, for as many a parking enforcement officer could tell you, few things end an argument with a regulation-violating person more quickly than simply smiling pleasantly and pointing to an easy-to-understand sign.