Anger, abuse and racism: Restaurant workers struggle to enforce vaccine mandates

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When a proof-of-vaccine policy was announced, Juliana Murphy knew it would be another burden she would face at work.

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“I have raised fists at me because of men yelling and contact tracing,” says waitress at a Halifax breakfast restaurant. “I knew asking them to show me proof of their COVID-19 shots would be even worse.”

Vaccine passports are emerging as the latest challenge for restaurant workers in Canada, as many face verbal abuse, sexual harassment and racism from customers.

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Restaurant workers across the country say that while most customers respect the new vaccine requirements, others are argumentative and angry.

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They describe a work environment where they are regularly told about COVID-19 vaccine certification policies, with a small number of clients belligerent and intimidating.

They describe the added task of enforcing the COVID-19 restrictions as tedious and stressful.

In response, some restaurant operators have hired security guards to review vaccination records and identities before allowing customers to sit at a table.

But in most cases, the responsibility falls on front-of-home workers – a largely young, part-time and low-paid workforce that is already strained by industry-wide labor shortages.

“A lot of the hosts who work in downtown restaurants are young women and it’s scary for them to inevitably bounce at the front door,” says Sean Bridges, a part-time server, bartender, and host in Toronto. (The restaurant where Mr. Bridges and Ms. Murphy work is not being named to prevent them from being targeted by anti-vaccination efforts.)

“You can get a really… arrogant crowd in here,” Mr. Bridges says. “I hate that the onus of enforcing these rules has fallen on the restaurant staff.”

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For an industry hit by pandemic public-health measures, vaccine passport rules are another blow to bars and restaurants.

While they are scrambling to stay open and do their best to enforce the vaccine mandate, the restrictions have further increased the workload for employees and hurt sales, according to an industry group.

A recent survey by Restaurants Canada found that more than half of restaurant operators say their employees have experienced hostile confrontations with people who oppose the new rules.

The survey also found that 20 percent of restaurants have lost employees and over 60 percent say they need to hire more workers.

“It’s restrictions on top of restrictions,” says Todd Barkley, Restaurant Canada’s president and chief executive. “It is very laborious and time consuming to implement; Restaurants are losing money. “

The industry group says restaurants should be compensated for the cost of implementing the vaccine mandate, which will help them hire more workers. It is also calling for capacity and removal restrictions to be lifted now that vaccine requirements are being implemented.

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Still, front-line restaurant staff suggest some customers may be making vaccine records.

“I had a table with me that I heard later in the evening that they had forged their documents,” says Mr. Bridges. “I saw their forgery, and there’s no way to tell they were fake.”

On the other hand, he says he almost never allowed anyone into a restaurant who had the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, because he didn’t realize that a complete vaccination required only one dose. Is.

“We are trying to enforce these rules but we have zero training,” says Mr. Bridges. “It has to be in a really uncomfortable position.”

In Halifax, Ms Murphy says her restaurant offered no training, but left a pamphlet at the front desk about a proof-of-vaccine policy for employees to use as a guideline.

“The hard part is that the vaccine records are different for every province,” she says. “It takes time to verify and some customers get upset. They truly believe that it is the restaurant that is imposing it. “

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The waitress says that while young people, seniors and women are generally wiser, they have many hostile interactions with middle-aged men.

“Some of them take it as an opportunity to be racist,” she says. “I have seen over and over again that some customers give our Syrian and Indian employees a very hard time. They get really angry when they ask for proof of their vaccines.”

Ms Murphy says she does her best to help alleviate these situations, but the money she earns has declined.

“By the time they walk through the front door of my table, they’re already in this terrible mood and complaining about things that have nothing to do with our actual restaurant service or quality. They have decided that they are going to tip less.”

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