A $5 fee for wearing a face mask

AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

This is not the sort of face mask mandate I was expecting to see. Fiddlehead’s Cafe in Mendocino, California has finally reopened for business after the pandemic shutdowns. But the eatery now has a different sort of policy regarding the wearing of face masks while dining there. Owner Chris Castleman is telling customers that they will be charged an additional five-dollar fee if they are seen wearing a mask inside the establishment. This appears to be yet another sign of the times where two warring camps in the country are drawing battle lines. (NBC News)

Diners are mostly free to speak their mind at a Northern California cafe, but doing so through the protective confines of a mask will cost a cover charge of $5.

Fiddlehead’s Cafe in Mendocino on Sunday put up a sign announcing the fee for customers who wear masks while ordering. In March, the cafe announced an ongoing 50 percent discount for those who throw their face coverings in the trash, said owner Chris Castleman, 34.

“I don’t think $5 to charity is too much to ask from mask wearing customers who claim to care so much about the community they live in,” he said by email.

It sounds like Mr. Castleman is doing this primarily as a stunt to make a statement, but he’s actually enforcing the rule. The money collected (if any) is going to support charitable causes. He’s currently donating the fines to a local domestic abuse shelter but plans to rotate other charities into the mix as time goes by. That probably makes it a little less likely for people to argue about paying.

Oh, and he’s also charging a different 5$ fine to anyone overheard “bragging about being vaccinated.” How he’s drawing the distinction between someone “bragging” or simply stating that they’ve been vaccinated isn’t stated. (The owner does go on to say that he doesn’t make anyone pay. He gives them a choice.)

While I don’t personally agree with these policies, it’s his restaurant so I suppose he can make up his own rules. Or can he? I realize that private businesses can’t technically violate anyone’s free speech rights, but forbidding customers from talking about vaccinations sounds pretty close to a discriminatory act. And while courts have upheld the right of businesses to enforce dress codes, I’m not sure how they would view a ban on face masks if someone were to challenge Castleman in court after being “fined.”

That’s not the key part of this otherwise somewhat silly story, however. As I mentioned above, all of these government mandates have clearly drawn a line in the sand across the country. Castleman is quoted describing the face mask orders and social distancing requirements as “ineffective government measures” that cause “collateral damage.” It’s fairly clear which side of the line he’s on. But we’ve also covered stories here about businesses that plan to continue requiring face masks even after all the mandates have been lifted.

Is that the new “red-blue line” taking shape in America? We appear to be heading toward a condition where competing businesses will either require masks and/or proof of vaccination or they will scoff at the idea. You can argue that such a scenario would just be an example of the free market in action and you would be correct. I’ve already been searching for stores and restaurants in our local area that don’t require masks and making sure they receive my business. But if it gets to the point where businesses start requiring “proof of non-vaccination” before they let you in, we will probably have taken things a bridge too far.

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