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Illinois Diners Must Now Wear Masks While Servers Bring Them Food and Drink

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Restaurant and bar customers are now required to keep facial coverings on while talking to workers

A masker serve with a round tray of drinks servers a table with a person standing up without a mask.
Customers will have to wear a mask when interacting with waitstaff at restaurants and bars.
Barry Brecheisen/Eater Chicago
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday announced a new mask mandate that will require customers at bars and restaurants to keep their facial coverings on while interacting with staff. Starting on Wednesday, customers will have to put on their masks while they’re speaking with servers, even as they remain seated at a table. The move, according to Pritzker, is “aimed at protecting our workers and slowing the spread.”

Since on-premise dining returned in June, restaurant and bar customers were allowed to remove their masks once seated. That’s made many restaurant and bar workers feel exposed as they wait on sometimes oblivious customers. Pritzker, at a Tuesday news conference, said he decided to expand the mask mandate after consulting with the Illinois Restaurant Association and other hospitality lobbyists. Customers can obviously remove their masks while eating. Pritzker said masks should remain on at “all times other when you’re not eating.” Customers will also have to wear their mask when picking up food and drinks.

The governor made a point to say folks should properly wear their coverings, meaning they need to cover both mouths and noses. Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike echoed the governor’s words.

“As the governor mentioned: stop wearing your face coverings incorrectly,” she said. “You’re literally contributing to infection transmission by doing so.”

Many bar owners feel they’ve been singled out by state restrictions — restaurants can serve customers indoors, while bars that don’t serve food are only permitted to have outdoor service. Pritzker took some time to address that, saying that bars tend to be packed with people, which is perilous during a pandemic. And despite the state’s COVID-19 capacity restrictions, bar owners often don’t always “have the ability to count the people coming in.” It’s difficult to enforce those requirements, especially with alcohol involved.

As the governor explained, as the drinks flow, customers often raise their voices or may sing. That contributes to the spread of the airborne disease which is transmitted from saliva aerosols that tend to linger in the air. Illinois first installed a mask mandate on May 1 for everyone over the age of 2.

While not affecting Chicago, Pritzker also announced that rising infection rates in Will and Kankakee counties have forced the state to ban indoor dining in those locations. Outdoor dining can continue as long as social distance measures remain.

Pritzker also touted the state’s updated website for businesses — including restaurants and bars — with guidance and signage. Tuesday brought 1,160 new cases of the novel coronavirus with 29 more deaths, according to Ezike.