With Houston-area residents and businesses increasingly concerned about the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the new strain of coronavirus, Jenni’s Noodle House said in a recent social media post that customers who appear sick will be asked to leave.
Jenni’s, a local Vietnamese restaurant chain with a Heights location at 602 E. 20th St., made the announcement Friday on Instagram and said it may transition to a takeout and delivery-only business.
“Protecting our staff and customers is our top priority right now,” the post read. “Due to the Coronavirus here in Houston, customers who appear to be sick and/or coughing/sneezing will be asked to leave. The staff has clear instructions to handle situations during these uncharted times. Your understanding is greatly appreciated while we all try to steer clear.”
Houston health officials and those from Harris and Fort Bend counties have reported a total of 12 cases of COVID-19 since March 4. They say all of the infected people were part of a group that recently traveled on the same cruise ship in Egypt and returned to the Houston area in late February.
According to information on the Harris County Public Health website, there have been more than 105,000 worldwide cases of the new coronavirus since the initial outbreak in China in December, with more than 375 cases in the United States. The disease has caused more than 3,500 deaths globally, although more than 58,000 people have recovered.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that older people and those with underlying health conditions are most at risk for serious complications from COVID-19.
Jenni’s received some backlash over its post, which the restaurant also shared on Facebook, with some saying they would no longer eat there.
“It’s your business. You have the right to make mistakes,” one commenter wrote on Facebook. “But this is wrong.”
Owner Jenni Tranweaver, who said she authored the social media posts, said the policy is in response to concerns among her 50 employees, including 13 at the Heights restaurant. Tranweaver also said her staff will use discretion and won’t ask customers to leave over allergy symptoms or a sneeze or cough that appears to be mild.
“We’re not asking anybody to leave unless it’s, like, clear and present — excessive,” she said. “There’s a difference in someone with allergies and someone hung over (versus) the cold and the flu.”
Some who engaged with the social media posts were supportive of the policy.
“Thank you for being proactive and reassuring,” another Facebook commenter wrote. “I will gladly eat at a place that takes it customers interest over simply making a sale.”
Tranweaver said she’s asked only three customers to leave in the 18-year history of her business, including 10 years at the Heights location. She said the decision to institute the illness policy, which is a means of empowering her staff to protect themselves and their customers, was not made lightly.
“It’s a tough decision,” she said. “It does affect my business, it does affect me, it does affect my reputation. As a Houstonian who has given back to my backyard, this is not (done) lightly. We are in uncharted times.”