What Do DC’s New Mask Guidelines Mean for You, the Diner?

Mayor Muriel Bowser is making masks mandatory at restaurants—and cracking down on those that flout the rules.

Photograph by Evy Mages
Coronavirus 2020

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Yesterday, DC mayor Muriel Bowser announced that masks in public spaces are now required for everyone over the age of two—unless they are “vigorously exercising,” working alone in an office, or eating and drinking.   

But “eating and drinking” can be taken a lot of different ways. So I asked Jared Powell, public information officer at DC’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, to clarify. And it turns out that “eating and drinking” is not defined as the length of time you’re seated in a restaurant enjoying the whole experience.

Ordering your dinner? Wear a mask. Having a vigorous Kanye vs Taylor debate in between courses? Wear a mask. Shovel your food down faster than your dining mate? Wear a mask—even if they are still eating.  

In other words, the only time it’s OK to slide a face mask down your neck is when you are actually putting food or a sip of a drink into your mouth.

Bowser also announced that ABRA inspectors now have the ability to issue $1,000 fines on the spot—no warning required—if they see bars or restaurants violating certain pandemic-related rules. Those include obvious violations like employees failing to wear masks, patrons not seated six feet apart, and allowing customers to stand up and order drinks at a bar staffed by a bartender. Restaurateurs also face fines if they serve alcohol after midnight, or if noise is above a conversational level (no live music or entertainment is permitted either). Other violations, such as failing to adhere to the 50 percent occupancy rule for indoor dining, or not implementing a reservation system, will incur a $1,000 fine for a second offense, after a written warning. 

So far, ABRA has levied $1,000 fines on four establishments. U Street’s Lounge of Three incurred one for allowing alcohol consumption after midnight, letting customers sit and stand at a staffed bar, too-loud music, and not serving food. Mount Pleasant Mexican restaurant Marleny’s was fined for selling alcohol without food. 

Red Lounge, the 14th Street hookah bar, was cited for serving drinks after midnight, letting customers walk around without masks, a live DJ, and not spacing booths six feet apart. And at Capitol Hill’s District Soul Food, an ABRA inspector saw employees without face masks and non-socially-distanced tables, among other things. 

Twelve other restaurants have received written warnings. Those include Adams Morgan spots Heaven and Hell and Grand Central, and Georgetown’s Cafe Milano, which allowed two sidewalk tables to keep drinking an hour after midnight. 

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Petworth.