Oaxaca de Juárez, a quaint colonial city in south central Mexico which relies on tourism for its very existence, relaxed its COVID-19 protocols near the beginning of July, 2020. And as we have moved into summertime, so have other cities throughout the world which are similarly dependent upon visitors. Restaurants have begun to open. Should they do so, just because of a change in municipal rules and regulations, especially as numbers of confirmed cases of COVID-19 continue to rise?

While Mexico is thankfully far behind the US in terms of a litigation-happy public, nevertheless attitudes towards liability are changing, even in Oaxaca. Two questions come to mind:

  1. It is going to make an appreciable difference to your bottom line with your eatery open, assuming tourists are not yet ready to visit Oaxaca and patronize your restaurant?
  2. Are you prepared to follow sound advice, perhaps more stringent than your city dictates, so as to avoid the prospect of a patron or staff member becoming ill; and if not, are you willing to assume the risk of what may lie in store for you as a consequence?

Tourists will not return to Oaxaca in appreciable numbers for several months. If your restaurant relies on tourism to bump its numbers into the black, it won’t happen just because you open your doors now. Are you not better off staying closed and continuing to offer take-out and delivery only? Consider advice from a former litigator, someone who has witnessed how some restaurants in another Mexican city in July, have been dealing with COVID-19:

  1. Half of your tables cannot be used.
  2. Before entering, patrons should step on a special mat, have their temperatures taken, be given antibacterial gel for their hands, be given a face covering, present photo ID, and complete and sign a form answering several questions relative to their health over the past two weeks.
  3. In the restaurant staff must wear a face covering and plastic shield, and cutlery, whether plastic or stainless, must be sealed in plastic.
  4. Menus should be available online for accessing by smartphone only, or alternatively disposable paper menus can be used.

Other protocols will likely be considered, as advised by your lawyer experienced in liability litigation.

The objectives are to ensure that neither patrons nor staff are exposed to COVID-19, and if someone takes ill with the virus, the restaurant and its owner(s) reduce the likelihood of liability.

If someone, a patron for example, does become ill, who will she blame? Word will spread far and wide, quickly. Not only might your restaurant be closed and quarantined for a period of time, but when tourism does return, visitors could conceivably be loathe to patronize your establishment.

You’re not going to make a profit without tourism, so your motivation for opening might be to support residents of Oaxaca who yearn for your exquisite, reasonably priced cuisine. They can still use take-out or delivery, and this reduces the likelihood of them becoming ill, or at least of them blaming your lax protocols if they do. You also might be considering support for your staff. What about their health?

It is suggested that it is just not worth it for restaurants to open until Oaxaca announces a green light, and even then, you’re advised to follow some of the protocols noted above. Better safe than sorry. Wait a little longer, especially if yours is an indoor restaurant. And while pondering, consider that restaurants are the only trafficked establishments where in order to do what you’re there for, you have to remove your face mask, a protector for others.

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