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Some operators call the lifting of COVID safety rules in Texas a no-win situation

After the state’s governor decided this week to drop mask mandates and capacity restrictions, some restaurants are sticking with their previous pandemic precautions.
Foreign and Domestic
Photo courtesy Foreign and Domestic

With the lifting of all of Texas COVID-related restaurant restrictions this week, Sarah Heard said her business has, once again, been placed in an impossible, no-win spot.

Heard, co-chef and co-owner of farm-to-table spot Foreign and Domestic in Austin, said she and her staff have worked hard during the pandemic to keep everyone safe and follow all mandates.

“Now, caution is being thrown to the wind all of a sudden,” she said. “Now we’re the bad guys. No matter what position we take, somebody’s going to be mad at us. But we’re getting used to it. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t is our new normal as a restaurant.”

For her part, Heard is erring on the side of caution. Foreign and Domestic will continue to require masks for all employees and customers. The restaurant will remain at 50% capacity as well.

“Our staff is not comfortable without it,” she said. “They’re almost not comfortable with it in place … We don’t feel there’s any need right now to remove that safety precaution.”

A Facebook post announcing Foreign and Domestic’s decision to ignore Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement Tuesday has drawn more than 100 responses, the majority of which are in support of the restaurant’s position.

“Since COVID started, if you open for dine-in, you’re a monster,” she said. “If you don’t open for dine-in, you’re just taking government support and being lazy. We feel like we’ve been placed in a position where we have to make decisions that directly affect the health of our employees. They’re terrified. And there’s nobody to replace our staff and we like our staff and we worked really hard to train them.”

Rebecca Masson, owner and pastry chef of Fluff Bake Bar in Houston, also said she will be continuing to enforce mask wearing in her shop.

“For me, it’s really simple,” Masson said. “We’re not vaccinated. We’re not even on a list to get the vaccination. I’ve made it this far keeping my staff and my families and their families safe.”

Restaurant-movie theater chain, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema (which declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy Wednesday), also said it would continue to require masks and distancing at its locations.

“We are only following the guidance of the CDC and medical experts, not politicians,” the chain said on social media. “Right now, at what we hope is the beginning of the end of COVID, the health of our teams and our guests remains this company’s top priority.”

In its statement on Abbott’s decision, the Texas Restaurant Association said restaurants must “remain vigilant so we do not slide backwards.”

“Consumers will only go where they feel safe,” the Association said. “And so restaurants must continue to be very thoughtful and implement the safety protocols that will enable them to maintain and build trust with their consumers and employees.”





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