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Restaurants Try Offering Freebies To Get Customers To Wear Masks

Across the country, a number of states and municipalities have lifted mask mandates, and some never had them at all.

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But in many places, restaurant workers have yet to get vaccinated, leaving them vulnerable to COVID-19.

So restaurant owners have come up with incentives, like free food, to convince customers to keep their masks on in their shops.

Unfortunately, the idea is not getting much traction. In Gulfport, Florida, Golden Dinosaurs, a vegan lunch spot, offered free donuts if customers would wear masks to its pick up window for 30 days straight.

The response, according to a viral tweet from employee Rachel Knox, was disheartening.

In Chicago, Manny’s Deli took up the mask-wearing challenge, with an offer of free sandwiches, and it also is having trouble getting customers to comply.

Danny Raskin, a member of the fourth generation to own Manny’s, says he doesn’t believe that customers are being deliberately obstinate.

“They’re not doing it on purpose,” Raskin says. “These are not anti-maskers trying to make a point. It’s people not understanding how to wear one — still — or who forget what they’re doing.”

The famous Chicago deli, which sits just south of the Loop business district, has a self-serve cafeteria line. Patrons, who have included Barack Obama and presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett, go through the line, place their sandwich and food orders, pay, and then find a table.

Unlike other restaurants, Manny’s doesn’t have table-side service, so the main interaction between customers and its staff takes place in the line. That’s where the problem happens, says Raskin.

Customers are pulling down their masks to place their orders, since their voices are muffled by the coverings. Once they sit down, they remove their masks to eat. Then, when they go back to the counter to get to-go boxes for leftovers, they fail to put their masks back on.

Raskin says the restaurant wants patrons to keep their masks on at all times, except when they are eating, following CDC guidelines. There are signs up everywhere reminding people to do so. And yet, the instructions aren’t working.

Thus, the free sandwich offer. “I’d love to give the sandwiches out,” Raskin says. “We’re trying to make it a fun way to follow the rules. In reality, it shouldn’t be a problem to get to 30 days.”

Raskin is wondering whether he should rethink the offer, and maybe give out a prize after seven days of compliance. He doesn’t want to pick a new date and start the clock again. “The goal is not to keep re-setting it,” he says.

With the pandemic easing, he and other Chicago restaurants are allowed to have more guests in their dining rooms, but Raskin says business is still tough.

“To me, the biggest problem is that the downtown area is completely empty. We need tourism. We need people to go back to work,” he says. “When you look at downtown Chicago, it’s still a ghost town. It still looks like it did six months ago.”

Raskin says he was pleased with the outcome of his sandwich series in late 2020 and early 2021, in which Manny’s teamed up with other Chicago restaurants to offer a weekly special.

The pandemic has taught him that “you can be competition, but you can also be gracious, and share business and not try to do everything on your own,” Raskin says.

Now, if people will only keep following the mask rules, their sandwich will be free.

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