As Kentucky restaurants reopen, owners unsure how to monitor customers wearing masks

Savannah Eadens
Louisville Courier Journal

As Kentucky restaurants prepare to open at 33% capacity on Friday as part of Gov. Andy Beshear's "Healthy at Work" guidelines, numerous new social distance and safety policies will be implemented at restaurants across the board, including requirements on personal protective equipment, or PPE, guidelines on how employees should wear face masks and gloves as well as how hand sanitizer should be available in addition to hand-washing stations and tissues.

Restaurant owners are adapting to the new policies amid staff shortages and uncertainty about the future of their businesses. 

One particular aspect of the reopening has some restauranteurs especially concerned: will customers follow recommendations to wear masks? 

In a Facebook Live town hall with Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer Thursday morning, restaurant owners came together with the city's public health & wellness director, Connie Mendel, and others, including Jesus Martinez, owner of Con Huevos, the Mexican fusion brunch restaurant with three Louisville locations. 

"We're using posters and other signs with information telling our customers in advance: Please wear your mask," Martinez said. "Tomorrow we will start learning again about how people behave, and how receptive people will be to our changes." 

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Martinez's concerns prompted questions from folks viewing the Facebook Live. "Why do I have to wear a mask if the server is wearing one?" someone questioned and another asked "Could you please penalize those people who don't use mask and stores and all public places?"

While customers can't wear masks while eating, they are encouraged to wear masks when coming in for curbside or pick up inside the store, Mendel said in the Facebook Live. 

"Businesses and stores can create their own policies, so what I would encourage somebody to patronize those places for further protection," Mendel said. 

Travis Doster, senior director of public relations for Texas Roadhouse, said mask-wearing has been a state-by-state, city-by-city issue for the large company.

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All Texas Roadhouse locations have a station with disposable masks and hand sanitizer for customers but getting people to wear them might be "the biggest hurdle," Doster said. 

"Because what people think is if you're social distancing, and if the employees are wearing the mask, then 'I, as the customer don't necessarily need to," Doster said. "It's gonna be tough for operators asking, 'Do we need to police this?"  

As part of the reopening, Kentucky is also asking restaurants to use disposable menus, napkins, condiments, table cloths and utensils "to the greatest extent practicable," The Courier Journal previously reported.

Besides limiting the number of dine-in customers to 33% of each building's capacity, restaurants can offer unlimited outdoor service, as long as they follow social distancing guidelines by keeping 6 feet of space between each guest, according to the guidelines.

However, restaurants should limit party size to 10 people or fewer, with only people who live in the same household allowed to sit at the same table, according to the guidelines.

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Reach Savannah Eadens at, 502-381-9498 or on Twitter at @savannaheadens. Support strong local journalism by subscribing today: