- New research from Datassential finds that 65% of consumers say safety gear for restaurant workers such as masks and gloves is "absolutely required" for them to feel comfortable eating at a restaurant, according to a report emailed to Restaurant Dive. An additional 15% agree such safety gear is helpful but not required for them to feel safe.
- The report also finds 30% of consumers feel dining inside a quick-service restaurant is be too risky, while 29% say the same for sit-down concepts.
- These results come despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recently relaxed mask guidelines for the general public. The CDC now recommends that fully vaccinated individuals no longer have to wear masks or physically distance except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
The CDC's new recommendations seem to have caught some experts off guard. A WebMD/Medscape poll found that 57% of U.S. doctors believe the new mask guidelines were released prematurely, while 63% of nurses believe the same. They note that U.S. vaccination rates, around 50%, aren't high enough yet and that there is no required proof of vaccination, leaving the general public to rely on an honor system regarding vaccination status.
Datassential's research finds that such distrust isn't just coming from the medical community. In addition to the 65% of consumers that want mask wearing to continue among restaurant employees, 68% of diners also want regular sanitation efforts — like wiping down tables regularly — to continue. Fifty-two percent also want more space added between tables and the elimination of communal seating.
Plenty of diners haven't been quick to ditch their masks despite the CDC's latest guidance. Fifty percent of consumers told Datassential they would continue to wear a mask unprompted at a restaurant throughout the next few months, while 37% said they would if required. Only 13% said they would not wear a mask at a restaurant.
Some restaurant chains are dropping mask mandates for consumers despite lingering concerns, including Chipotle, which stated on its website that fully-vaccinated guests do not need to wear a mask inside restaurants except where required by local regulations.
Starbucks and McDonald's also implemented an optional face covering policy for fully vaccinated customers unless otherwise required by local regulations. All three of these companies, however, continue to have a mask requirement in place for their employees. The National Restaurant Association also recommends all restaurant employees continue to wear masks. QSR employees are still at elevated risk for contracting the COVID-19 virus, according to a March report form UCLA and UC Berkeley.
This shift in mask policies could reduce harassment against restaurant employees. Seventy-eight percent of workers have reported experiencing or witnessing hostile behavior from customers in response to enforcing COVID-19 protocols, according to a December One Fair Wage report. The NRA also recommends that restaurants put up signs asking unvaccinated customers to wear masks unless they're eating, according to NPR.