People ready to ditch masks at Tampa Bay restaurants, owners say hold up

Local News

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – While many customers may be excited to ditch the masks and head to their favorite Tampa Bay restaurant, business owners have to decide how open they’re going to be to the new no-mask suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“A lot of people don’t want to wear a mask as soon as they walk in the door and sit down. They’ll say, ‘I’m vaccinated’ and we’re ‘not the mask police.’ It’s been tough,” said Joanie Corneil, owner of Bella’s Italian Cafe in South Tampa.

Bella’s survived the pandemic by improving their outdoor seating options, offering some of their popular drinks to go and focusing on safety. As the pandemic continues beyond the one-year mark, they have found it harder to enforce certain guidelines.

The CDC’s new guidance prompting fully-vaccinated people to go sans masks is welcome news but, just as more people are feeling safe enough to go out and grab dinner with friends mask-free, restaurants are now dealing with being unable to hire enough people to work.

“Inside we’re not at full capacity and, frankly, right now it is so difficult to hire,” Corneil said. “I don’t have enough people and I don’t want to give poor service so we’re just going to keep limited numbers inside.”

While the CDC says it’s ok for fully-vaccinated people to not wear masks indoors, businesses still have the right to require they wear them. The confusion now lies on how restaurants will be able to tell who is vaccinated and who isn’t.

“It’s a tough call because there’s still going to be people that will not come in if the staff and other customers don’t have masks on,” said Corneil.

The Bella’s owner says she’ll be making a decision on what the new no-mask guidelines for the vaccinated means for them in the coming days.

As a reminder for fully-vaccinated customers, while the CDC says you may not have to wear a mask, certain business may still require them for the time being.

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