Face coverings in shops became mandatory from 24 July, but some have raised concerns about responsibility being put on frontline staff to ensure customers wear them.
British Baker recently spoken to a cross section of the bakery industry to find out how they feel about it.
Craft Bakers Association
The Craft Bakers Association has had several calls from its members with concerns and questions about the new rule and has been working with its health and safety partner Safer Assured to provide its members with clear support and guidance.
“Many members are worried about putting their employees in an uncomfortable or compromising position by asking customers to wear masks,” says Karen Dear, director of operations at the CBA.
“They are worried that the customer may not take this request positively and could even become aggressive. We are advising our members that if this happens, staff can refuse entry, but should try to encourage the customer to wear a face covering by explaining that it is a legal requirement to help reduce the transmission of coronavirus. If customers refuse to comply or become aggressive, the business can call the police.”
The CBA has also had queries from members asking for clarification on whether staff need to wear face covering.
“It is recommended, but not mandatory, that staff wear face coverings (unless they are behind plastic or Perspex screens). Wearing face coverings must not be used as an alternative to other coronavirus precautions however, such as social distancing and hygiene measures,” Dear adds.
An Essex-based bakery
“Our main concern is if a customer should get angry, how will our staff cope if they get physical? Our nearest police station is 20 minutes away so it may be too late,” says a spokesperson.
“We aren’t expecting backlash from our loyal customers though as they’ve been very understanding of our situation with social distancing and how service may be delayed in the interim.”
Staff at the family-run bakery have been provided with face coverings and gloves to wear, should they choose to do so.
Greenhalgh’s Craft Bakery, Bolton
Greenhalgh’s has placed posters in all its shops signifying customers must wear a face mask as a condition of entry, but shop staff will not be expected to enforce the rule.
“It is fair to say that staff will not always be aware of exempt conditions that our customers may have, therefore the company does not wish any member of staff to be drawn into confrontations with customers at a time when we are already under pressure with the current climate,” explains Sandra Ogden, operations director at Greenhalgh’s.
Birds Bakery, Derby
“The final guidance notes came out very late,” says Mike Holling, sales and marketing director, Birds Bakery. “You would have thought this measure should have been introduced earlier during the pandemic.”
However, he remains hopeful customers will mostly adhere to the new rules. “I am sure we may find some need reminding during the first couple of days, but we have to remember that this action is to protect and reduce the spread of Covid-19.”
Notices are displayed on the front doors of Birds’ shops and on information screens (see example above). Staff have also been wearing PPE, mainly face visors, for the past four weeks, Holling notes.
Lovingly Artisan, Kendal
Staff at Baking Industry Awards-winning Lovingly Artisan have been wearing face coverings – either masks or visors or both – long before the current rules came into place.
“We wanted the team to get used to the routine and being able to communicate with a mask or visor with a smile was going to be an important aspect for those that visited us,” notes Catherine Connor, marketing director at Lovingly Artisan.
She adds that bakery’s main store can be operated outside or, as the weather gets worse, inside in a safe manner. Either way it will “gently encourage customers to wear face coverings”.
The Bread Store has received an “artisan-style face lift” in recent weeks with changes including moving the counter and a bespoke glass screen fitted.
As for its market locations, Connor hopes customers will follows its approach.
“Being in the open market gives us a little more liberty, however, we hope consumers will follow our approach. We have not loosened nor will loosen the two-metre rule, this more than anything has made all feel safe,” she says.
“Many in retail feel more guidance from the government would have given the consumers more motive, rather than being too vague. In an ideal world perhaps the encouragement of face cover wearing should have been a part of the lockdown loosening guide.”
Grouts the Bakers, south east Essex
Giles Grout from family-run bakery Grouts the Bakers, which has 12 locations across south east Essex, believes around 10% of people won’t wear face coverings.
“We have briefed staff and put posters up in all shops,” he explains, but raises concerns about questioning customers who choose not to wear a mask. “If you are going to question your customers about not wearing a mask you will need back up, but the police won’t be around.”
Face coverings have been mandatory in retail shops in Scotland since 10 July although, like in England, there are exemptions to the rule.
“Members were initially quite concerned about this move, especially regarding enforcement, but these concerns were largely dealt with when the guidance was published and the continued focus on the health and wellbeing of staff and customers is recognised by our membership,” explains Alasdair Smith, chief executive of the trade association.
“In Scotland the government has been very clear that it does not expect retailers to enforce this regulation – this is a matter only for the police – however retailers in general have been very good at placing signage at entrances reminding shoppers of their obligations and feedback is suggesting a high rate of compliance with the rules.”
Scottish Bakers communicated the regulation to its members in advance of the implementation date allowing them time to ensure compliance.
“It appears to have been a relatively smooth transition in behaviour,” Smith adds.
Ashers Bakery, Nairn, Scotland
Ashers Bakery in Scotland has been faced with customers who refuse to wear masks, despite there being plenty of signage on entry to its shop about its safety measures.
The bakery even created Law Abiding Scots biscuits – shortbread people decorated with an edible kilt and sugar paste face mask. Despite some backlash online, with one Facebook commenter branding it a “seriously bad business move”, the overall response has been positive.
“They are still selling well,” says George Asher, co-managing director. “We’ve also had lots of mainly positive comments from others in the trade who have seen them through British Baker.”