State makes mask guidelines, but enforcement falls on local front line employees

Bull and Bones in Blacksburg has a mask mandate, but the owner says customer non-compliance could shut his doors

BLACKSBURG, VA. – State regulators continue to require masks inside restaurants, putting local employees on the front lines of enforcement.

Surviving this pandemic is challenging, even more challenging when your kitchen is cooking for a fraction of what it used to. But in Blacksburg, Bull and Bones owner Jon Coburn said the heat isn’t just coming from the grill.

“It’s frustrating for people, it’s frustrating for patrons, it’s frustrating for the employees because what’s ready and available and everyone’s doing on one week, it’s completely changed two or three weeks later,” Coburn said.

Walk in the front doors of the Blacksburg restaurant and you can’t miss the sign taped to the door that says masks required.

With the state threatening to pull liquor and health licenses for non-compliance, Coburn said it’s not about politics it’s about keeping the doors open.

“If we have to follow these guidelines, it is what it is. We’re not trying to take away your personal liberties by requiring that you wear a mask to your seat, that’s what the state mandates that they would like to see us do, so that’s what we do,” Coburn said.

Now instead of just serving you, restaurant staff have become the mask police too. They were plentiful Wednesday night for employees and customers. Amy McDowell said it’s worth the trade-off to dine in person.

“We should do our part to make sure that we can prevent the spread of the virus as much as possible, other than that it doesn’t really bother me,” McDowell said.

Coburn said it’s not a problem for 99% of his customers, the other one percent just need a reminder of the rules. He said he’s willing to make all accommodations for those without or unwilling to wear a mask, including offering seating on the patio or delivering food to the customer’s home. But at the end of the day, the policy is that masks are required, and he’s drawing a hard line to stay in business.

“We could get their food to go for them while they stand and wait outside, we’d be happy to deliver to their home if they want to head on home and we might even beat them there,” Coburn said.

Both the department of health and VA ABC said they will continue to conduct unannounced inspections for masks, social distancing and proper food and beverage handling procedures.

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