Restaurants adapting to new mask guidelines leaving customers confused and frustrated


CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Lowcountry restaurants say they are adapting on the fly to new COVID-19 guidelines after Governor Henry McMaster rescinded his state-wide mask mandate for restaurants last Friday.

Restaurant owners say not all customers are happy about revised guidelines. The opposing mask guidelines from state and local leaders has some customers and staff confused, some even frustrated.

Masks remain mandatory in Charleston restaurants at least for the time being even after Governor McMaster lifted his requirement. Some Lowcountry business owners say the change in guidelines has created some challenges including staff members being confronted by customers.

“I don’t appreciate people coming to the business harassing my staff, calling them names or using profanity towards my team,” says Bessinger’s Barbeque Co-Owner Michael Bessinger. “It’s not going to happen.”

Bessinger voiced many of his frustrations in a Facebook post over the weekend directed at customers treatment of his staff.

It’s a change that has some now questioning where they need to wear a mask and restaurant owners say they’re now having to explain the ordinances.

“You have customers who refuse to wear them and become very combative and confrontational,” says Bessinger.

And that’s led to some customers taking their frustrations out on staff, some customers going as far as calling staff members names. Bessinger says management has had to step in to defuse frustration.

“Then as the owner, our managers have to de-escalate situations on a daily basis,” says Bessinger.

Mask wearing is the law at Bessingers Barbeque, like all other Charleston restaurants. Bessinger says he wishes customers were more understanding.

“The ban is there in place whether you believe in it or not,” says Bessinger. “It’s not my fault, it’s not the business’s fault, it’s not the employee’s fault.”

For Bessinger, he says whether he believes in the mandate or not he’s taking a proactive step to keep his staff healthy including the restaurant’s founder, his 90-year-old father.

“We even have team members here on staff who have health issues and I would feel terrible if my irresponsibility caused them to contract it and have a hard time,” says Bessinger.

Not all restaurants say they’ve had the same experience to the new guidelines. For Carmella’s Owner Brian Solari, he’s says some of his staff and customers aren’t sure where they need to mask up.

“I’ve had to explain it to a couple of my staff members that it is a city ordinance, so we’re still required to wear them and people walking on the street are still required to wear them,” says Solari. “But I think there’s a little bit of confusion with that.”

A light at the end of the tunnel but with plenty of work still to be done, Bessinger says he’s thankful for his customers. At the same time, he’s asking them to remain patient.

“Rounding the bend, stay disciplined,” says Bessinger. “Just be kind, it’s a challenging time for everyone.”

Solari says he has seen an increase in the amount of people not wearing masks walking around Charleston, estimating the amount of people not wearing a mask doubled after the Governor’s announcement on Friday.

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