How to Handle Customers Who Refuse to Wear a Mask

by on October 15, 2020 · 4 comments

in Ed Decker, Ocean Beach

Straight-up With a Twist

By Edwin Decker

Dear Ed,

As a manager of a [501(c)(3)] non-profit organization, I am frequently confronted about us enforcing our state’s mask mandate. We will refuse access to our building to anyone if they will not wear a mask. . . I have been called names, screamed at, and even threatened. My question is how as the manager can I politely tell them to fuck off?

Sincerely, Barbara Curry
Cherryville, NC

Thanks for the question Barbara. Even though I have never been in a position to enforce a mask mandate, I have seen many-a YouTube video featuring customers throwing anti-mask tantrums so I do have an idea about what you, and others, are going through.

Now, I’m not going to get into the controversy over mask-wearing itself – whether it is unconstitutional for the government to mandate them, or if the COVID risk has been exaggerated or even if the pandemic is a straight-up hoax concocted by our alien overlords – because none of this matters when it comes to private organizations such as yours.

Every privately-owned business, including a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, has the right to refuse service for pretty much any reason that isn’t race, gender, sexual preference and/or religion related. It doesn’t even matter if it is state enforced. From a legal standpoint, there is no difference between a mask requirement and a tie requirement. You could even display a sign on the door that says, “No Lederhosen, No Service” and there wouldn’t be doodly-squat anyone could doodly about it.

So yes, if a customer refuses to wear a mask, you are fully within your rights to, as you put it, “politely tell them to fuck off.” It’s just a matter of how and when. How much pleading do you need to do before putting a foot down? How much grief – in the form of insults and threats – must one endure before unleashing the Krakens of your contempt?  Well lucky for you, Ms. Curry, I have composed a reference guide. It’s called . . .

The Five Stages of Grieving – How to Handle Rude, Maskless Customers

Stage 1 – At First, Be Respectful: I’m sure, as a manager, you already know to be polite at the outset. Not only as a matter of decorum, but also because people are less likely to comply when somebody comes out of the gate guns blazing. Instead, talk to them the way you talk to other customers – which is to say, cordially:

“Excuse me sir, will you put on a mask please? It’s for the safety of everyone.”

Most of the time that will be all it takes and you can return to the back office to finish watching those “World’s Rudest Customers” videos in peace knowing you managed the shit of the situation.

Stage 2 – Cite The “No Exceptions” Policy: If they decline, however, and say they have asthma or something, tell them, “Sorry but we cannot put other customers at risk so unfortunately there are no exceptions to this rule.” Then offer solutions, such as delivering their items curbside. Or maybe they just forgot their mask, to which you should happily offer a free one. In either case, stand by your “No Exceptions” policy and most people will acquiesce.

Stage 3 – Rebuff “The No Exceptions” Exemption: Sometimes a customer will claim to have a medical exemption. This is not a problem. Just tell them that “No Exceptions” means just that – nada, none, zero exceptions. Of course, they may say that their medical exemption exempts them from No Exceptions policies. They may even produce an official-looking document that says as much.

That’s fine too; because you will produce an official-looking document of your own and say, “Sorry ma’am, but we have been granted an exemption from exception exemptions. It’s called “The ‘No Exceptions’ Exemption, Exemption,” which means we do not have to accept your exception.” After the smoke stops pouring out of their ears and the brain stops sparking, you should be able to guide them gently to the exit without resistance.

Stage 4 – Employ The NO BOZOS Policy: However, if he or she is unfazed by the previous stages and is now hurling insults and threats and generally behaving like a toddler at the dentist who is all out of lollipops, you are cleared to politely tell them to Eff off. Not literally though. A manager needs to exhibit a certain level professionalism. Instead of using the F-word, better to imply it — with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Maybe say something like, “Ok, ok, we will exempt you from the mask mandate. However, we also have a NO BOZOS policy which stands for No Obnoxious, Belligerent, Obtuse, Zealous and Odious Suckers-of-souls so if you would kindly exit the premises it would be much appreciated.”

Stage 5 – Summon Igor the Security Ape to Drag Him or Her Out by the Tongue: If after all this the customer still refuses to comply, it’s time to summon Igor the Security Ape. Issue a final warning of course. Say, “If you don’t leave now Igor the security ape is going to drag you out by the tongue.” Then, if for some unholy reason they are still standing there maskless, you should feel no guilt in watching Igor pry open the customer’s mouth, grab a hold of their licker (while wearing gloves and mask, naturally) and drag them to the curb with it. You may now head back to the office to finish those rude customer videos knowing you managed the shit out of this day.

Edwin Decker (of Ocean Beach) is not a licensed therapist or psychologist. In fact, his only qualification is the 25-plus years as a bartender listening to the liver-aching of desperados and dipsomaniacs. Heed his advice at your peril.

Send questions to




{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff Page October 15, 2020 at 12:27 pm

Enjoyable piece, and I don’t deal with the public. I worked in gas stations for five years during high school and college and when I got my first construction job, I vowed to NEVER take another job where I had to deal with the public. My hat is off to those who do these kinds of things for a living, it does indeed take a special kind of soul to work in service professions. My personality has no patience for anything but steps one and five. Your way sounds better. I just don’t know why the prisons are not full of people who worked serving the ungrateful, miserable public.


Joe Smith October 16, 2020 at 9:29 am

Here’s a better idea. Apologize, and tell the customer your hands are tied. Tell them the Public Health Officer has demanded it policy and everyone has to wear a mask to enter the building. Otherwise you risk getting shut down. Then tell them they don’t like the policy they can contact Wilma Wooten at the following:

(858) 534-9550

The Ken’s and Karen’s can then move on with their lives and complain at someone else.


suela decker October 16, 2020 at 10:50 am

Very good advice– also the added comment that the manager should give the person the phone number of the County Health Department that ordered the policy.


Barbara Curry October 16, 2020 at 11:31 am

Absolutely Love!!


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: