Restaurants decide whether to require masks after mandate ends

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WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — Though wearing a mask is no longer mandated in most public North Carolinian spaces, private businesses have the freedom to decide whether they will continue mask and social distancing requirements.

Here in the Cape Fear, restaurants are reacting and wrestling with the big news, and have an even bigger decision to make going forward.

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“It feels… you know I think everyone says this, but cautiously optimistic is the way we feel,” said Seabird owner, Dean Neff.

With the announcement coming just hours before the Friday dinner rush, some hungry diners didn’t realize they might still have to mask up to eat out.

“I would hope and I would suspect that they would do the same (as the state) if they want to have people come and enjoy their facilities,” said one man as he arrived for his 6 p.m. reservation.

It’s something many business owners, like Indochine’s Solange Thompson are deciding carefully, not wanting the risk the safety of customers or employees unable to be vaccinated.

“I think I’m going to continue to wait,” said Thompson. “Luckily for my restaurant, we have still have the outdoor seating. So we don’t have to add in the old tables. We still have enough space to make sure customers are comfortable.”

And Thompson is not the only one with a decision to make.

Chef Dean Neff opened his restaurant, Seabird downtown just weeks ago. He says he’ll discuss their options with staff once they gain their sea legs.

“Right now, the biggest thing we can do is make sure that the food is delicious coming out of here,” Neff said. “So we’re putting that to the back burner.”

As of early May, more than half of North Carolinian adults have been at least partially vaccinated. Thompson says she’s encouraged by that number, but want to keep an eye on things for another month before she relaxes social distancing and mask wearing.

According to Thompson, “I’m glad that this is coming to an end, but we still have to be careful because you never know who would come in and carry, and you know, and have a disease from another country.”

Of course, several restaurants across the Cape Fear region are wrestling with the same decision. We called many who say they’re encouraging face masks, but no longer requiring them. Others say they are waiting until after the weekend rush to make a final decision.