Texas restaurant with "no masks" policy under scrutiny

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

We’ve all been watching the various battle lines being drawn around the country when it comes to COVID abatement policies in public spaces and businesses. One of the larger bones of contention arises with face masks. Should businesses like bars and restaurants mandate the wearing of masks by all patrons when they aren’t eating or drinking? Should they make it entirely voluntary? Or should only the unvaccinated be forced to wear a mask and, if so, how will you check their vax status? Needless to say, it’s complicated. But one bar/restaurant in Texas has created a stir for going in an entirely different direction. At Hang Time, an eatery in Rowlett, Texas, a different sort of rule is in place. Face masks are not allowed. If you go in and put one on, you will be asked to remove it or leave. And not everyone agrees with that sort of system.

That’s what happened to a young couple who went to Hang Time for dinner recently. Natalie Wester and her husband were out for “date night” while their young child was at home with a sitter. But upon entering. the waitress came up and asked them to remove them. They refused to do so and were refused service. (CBS Dallas)

“Our waitress came over, sat down next to me and said, ‘Our manager told me to come over because I am nicer than he is… But this is political and I need you to take your masks off.’”

No masks allowed.

It’s a policy you don’t hear often amid the pandemic, but the owner says he considers it part of the dress code.

“I have spent my money on the business, my blood sweat and tears in this business, and I don’t want masks in here,” Tom, the owner of Hang Time, said.

While the Westers are both fully vaccinated, they say that they choose to wear masks while out and about because their 4-month-old son is immunocompromised. That explanation didn’t manage to get them served in the restaurant.

Part of me certainly feels sympathetic toward the Westers, since caring for a baby with those sorts of medical issues can’t be easy and no doubt causes a lot of concerns. But a the same time, I have a hard time seeing this as “a problem” that needs to be addressed.

Personally, I find pretty much all of the face mask mandates to be repugnant at this point. That’s doubly true for any eating and drinking establishments where you’re told to mask up, but allowed to lower or remove the mask while partaking of your food or beverage. I’m sorry (not sorry), but that’s just dumb. Even if you believe that the cloth masks most people wear are magically effective at blocking airborne viral loads (they aren’t, though they can reportedly partially block transmission from infected persons who are coughing or sneezing), the moment you lower the mask you are breathing in the air around you and exhaling whatever you have in your own system. The virus isn’t scanning the room and saying, oh, that person is going to put a mask back on in a moment. We’d better skip them.

I’m not going to beat that idea into the ground. It’s just a pet peeve of mine. But the larger point here is that while I don’t agree with making face masks mandatory, I also don’t see any point in banning them outright for the people who feel more comfortable that way. It seems to me like the owner of Hang Time is just driving away potential business.

But with that said, it’s his business and he has to run it how he sees fit. In the end, these are questions that will all be answered by the free market if the situation is allowed to play out. I’m sure there are plenty of other eateries in Rowlett that allow masks and will be happy to accept the Westers’ money. There are others that require masks and everyone will be able to pick and choose which places to patronize. (If I happen to be in Rowlett any time soon you’ll probably be able to find me at Hang Time, but that’s just me.)

Tom, the owner of Hang Time, shouldn’t be in any legal trouble here. Restaurants are allowed to enforce dress codes. And in an ironic twist, many states (including Texas) actually have laws on the books forbidding the wearing of masks in public as an anti-crime measure, though all of those laws have seemingly gone ignored since the pandemic blew into town. The bottom line is that each business should be able to make the call on this question as they see fit and all of the customers out there can decide where to take their business based on their own preferences.