As an increasing number of states reach whichever phase of their reopening plans that allow restaurants to start serving dine-in customers, those restaurant owners and managers have the unenviable task of figuring out how exactly they're supposed to do that. They've been given a list of brand new requirements and restrictions that could include anything from having to construct physical barriers between the tables that can't be pushed six feet apart, to investing in disposable menus and single-use condiments, to ensuring that they have some way to securely keep track of customer data in case someone's subsequent swab test comes back positive.
Although hanging shower curtain liners to keep customers separated comes with its own set of challenges, another yet-to-be-answered question is how face masks are going to work in a situation when people need to have access to their own mouths. Some states are already advocating for dine-in customers to wear masks when they're walking to their table, when they interact with members of the restaurant staff, and when they go to the restroom—but what about the rest of the time?
An Israeli company says that it has invented a mask that will work for anyone who wants to keep the bottom half of their face covered, even while they're eating. Avtipus Patents and Inventions revealed its mask earlier this week, demonstrating a built-in (but visually terrifying) mechanical mouth that opens and closes with the use of a hand-controlled lever.
"The mask will be opened mechanically by hand remote or automatically when the fork is coming to the mask," Asaf Gitelis, a vice president at Avtipus Patents, told Haaretz. "Then you can eat, enjoy, drink and you take out the fork and it will be closed, and you're protected against the virus and other people sitting with you."
The mask is obviously better-suited for solid foods than it is for soups or sauces, but it's hard to imagine that the wearer isn't going to make a terrific mess of themselves, especially when they're still trying to nail the timing between their fork-hand and their lever-hand. Avtipus Patents says that it could start manufacturing these pale blue pieces of ventriloquist dummy cosplay within the next few months, and each one will be between $1 and $3 more than a standard mask.
Earlier this month, a Houston company called Shut Your Mouth launched a website to sell its own new masks, which each have a small zipper that can be undone when it's time to eat or drink something. "[W]e thought 'How can we help each other and the people we love?,'" the mask's three co-creators wrote on its website. "From there, we came up with the idea to create face covers for our communities to be safe while also social distancing." (But the company also acknowledges the challenge of selling anything that gives the wearer a feeling of safety; to access the website, you have to click a disclaimer accepting that the company is "in no way liable for any illness or injuries" that occur while you're dragging a zipper in close proximity to your lip skin).
On second thought, if the choice is between opening and closing a mechanical maw, cleaning the half-chewed chicken tenders out of a tiny zipper, or sticking to takeout for a little longer, then my naked face and I might be eating at the kitchen counter for another few weeks.