By Samantha Harris
As the pandemic is still ongoing, local Gulfport business Golden Dinosaurs Vegan Deli (GDVD) took the chance to get creative with enforcing masks by creating their own donut challenge.
Starting in February 2021, GDVD is challenging customers to wear a mask at the order window, and if the restaurant can go 30 days without asking someone to put on a mask, they will give away free donuts for an entire day.
Audrey Dingeman, who is one of the owners, said the longest the team has gone without asking someone to put on a mask has been until 3 p.m. on any given day.
Dingeman came up with the idea as a joke, but once she introduced it to the team, everyone liked it and decided to give it a try.
“It came from staff being constantly frustrated to repeatedly have to ask guests to wear masks while ordering from our walk-up window,” Dingeman said.
The challenge is important to Dingemen because she wants to keep the staff safe. GDVD employee, Toma Karaleviciute, is also an advocate for masks and appreciates the challenge.
“I am a huge proponent for mask wearing because I believe in a collectivist mindset rather than an individualistic one,” Karaleviciute said.
Karaleviciute has worked at GDVD since September 2019 as a front of house team member. She has found the challenge to be an encouraging incentive for those who already wear masks, but believes it has been ineffective for pulling uninformed people in.
“A lot of customers who are stoked about this are still frustrated that tourists keep ruining the chance for free donuts,” Karaleviciute said. “Other guests just peek the sign, laugh, and don’t read it all the way. Most often, after I have already asked the customer to put their mask on, guests are very confused by the meaning of the challenge.”
Karaleviciute thinks some of the positive outcomes of the challenge have been being able to keep the restaurant operating and serving up “smiles and snacks” to those who rely on them.
There have been some cons though, such as policing people who are not taking the pandemic seriously, declining mental health, and missing out on unemployment benefits. Karaleviciute would like for 60% of the population to be vaccinated before the restaurant lifts mask mandates.
While Karaleviciute appreciates the challenge and the incentive to keep people safe, she does think the challenge could be improved.
“If I were to amend this challenge, I would change the criteria from ‘how many days since asking someone to put their mask on’ to ‘how many days since having to beg someone to put their mask on,” Karaleviciute said. “Sometimes people are understanding and simply forgot, and they immediately put their mask up. Other times, I have to police them and tell them if they refuse to wear a mask they have to step away and order online. These are the people who should be at fault for resetting the count.”
Catie Shetty has been a GDVD customer since the business first opened in 2018. When she first heard of the donut challenge, she thought it was “brilliant.”
“I think it’s a great idea and surprised me more restaurants or other small businesses aren’t doing something similar,” Shetty said.
While Shetty does not personally care if restaurants are enforcing masks, she is an advocate for supporting the rules and policies they have in place. Her favorite GDVD donut is the Oreo flavor, which she would love to see given out if the challenge is completed.
GDVD is currently only operating a walk-up window and patrons can find socially distanced seating outside. For those who would rather eat at home or not wear a mask, orders can be made on their website for pick-up.
According to the CDC guidelines as of May 4, masks are still needed outdoors if all parties are not vaccinated and people are crowded together. Since Gulfport often gets tourists and there is no vaccine mandate, GDVD plans to wait until the CDC decides masks are no longer needed or the team feels comfortable lifting the policy.
The CDC’s website also stated 44.5% of the U.S. population is currently vaccinated.
As of right now, there is no set date in mind when Dingeman plans to end the challenge.
“Once our staff are vaccinated, and after we all decide as a team that we are ready to no longer require masks at the window, then we will begin loosening our Covid rules, including the mandatory mask mandate,” Dingeman said. “We don’t have a set date in mind, but thinking probably mid June or so.”
While Dingeman plans to keep the challenge in place for at least the next few months, she does not think it will be completed.
“At this point, I think we could do diamond and gold topped donuts for free,” Dingeman laughed. “There is no way we will be getting to 30 days.”