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Texas diner warns of $50 surcharge for having to explain why masks are mandatory

Diner owner Wayne LaCombe added that people who want to debate the restaurant's policy will be charged $75.
Empty restaurant
Texas restaurants have had to decide whether or not they will require masks since the state's mask mandate was repealed. Ronnie Kaufman / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Wayne LaCombe was tired of getting asked about the mask policy at his Texas restaurant, Legends Diner, so he put up a sign that made his feelings about the matter clear.

The sign, which he said was inspired by another sign that he had seen online, is meant to be humorous while still sending a message: The bright-pink poster tells diners about a "new surcharge:" If LaCombe needs to explain why masks are mandatory, guests will be charged $50. Diners who want to explain why they disagree with the policy will be charged $75.

"We are serious about masks precautions," LaCombe told TODAY Food. "We require masks to walk in. We take temperatures, we have sanitizer on every table. Nobody's allowed to walk around the restaurant without wearing a mask, because you do have diners sitting down, eating, not wearing a mask. ... It's an important subject that needs to be addressed. We know when people do not wear masks, numbers go up, and we're seeing that right now."

Wayne LaCombe said the sign went up shortly after the state's mask mandate was repealed.
Wayne LaCombe said the sign went up shortly after the state's mask mandate was repealed. Courtesy Wayne LaCombe / Wayne LaCombe

LaCombe told TODAY that he put the sign up on Tuesday, just days after Texas repealed its mask mandate and allowed businesses to operate at 100% capacity.

Restaurant workers are not yet eligible to be vaccinated in Texas, though the state just announced that all adults will be eligible for vaccination beginning on March 29.

Businesses in the state are allowed to set their own rules about customers wearing masks, but several restaurants have reported negative experiences after saying they would require mask-wearing: Mike Nguyen, a restaurant owner in San Antonio, had his restaurant was defaced with racist graffiti following a discussion about masks on CNN. Arnaldo Richards said that someone on social media implied that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) should visit his Mexican restaurant Pico's after he announced masks would be required. In League City, a Jack in the Box restaurant manager was stabbed by a customer following a mask dispute.

"We have employees that have not been vaccinated at all," LaCombe explained, adding that they have received some negative responses to the sign on social media. However, the diner's customers have mostly been supportive of the sign and its message.

"(People) were laughing and taking pictures of it coming in, saying 'I love your sign,' so I left it up," said LaCombe, who said that he had considered taking down the sign if it offended too many potential customers. "We definitely did not expect to get this kind of response. ... People don't want their freedom infringed on, but small businesses, especially here, are definitely taking this serious and requesting masks upon entering, so fortunately we are not having any issues with people coming in unmasked."

LaCombe said that there have been some occasions where a customer will want to argue and say that they "want to take (their) information from a professional in the medical field." To counter those responses, he asked his wife, Kat LaCombe, a retired oncology nurse, to write a Facebook post explaining the precautions they take and why they ask customers to wear masks.

"She has worked alongside doctors and definitely knows how to stay safe as far as germs and spreading of any viruses; she's dealt with everything," LaCombe said; his wife was a nurse for nearly 30 years.

LaCombe said that in general, the restaurant's protocols have kept himself, his staff and his guests safe throughout the pandemic.

"We have been open, with an exception of two and a half months where we had a forced shutdown by the state," LaCombe said. "We have not had any instances in our diner of anyone contracting COVID, so we apparently are doing something safe and correct with the procedures we're taking."