As businesses navigate Phase 3 of B.C.’s restart plan, a number of store owners have encountered a troubling trend of rude customers and mistreatment of staff in response to COVID-19 safety protocols.
“It’s really unfortunate because a lot of the business community has invested in protocols and barriers to make sure their customers are safe,” said Acacia Pangilinan, executive director of the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce.
Pangilinan said as more businesses resume operations and welcome customers back, the number of owners sounding the alarm has grown.
“We’re seeing both sides. Some are being fantastic and others, well, some store owners are just telling them not to come, to not be a customer anymore,” Pangilinan said.
She believes the behaviour seen among some customers comes from added stress, with people tired of being in quarantine. Pangilinan has heard of incidents in all sectors, including the retail and service industries.
“It’s at the point where businesses are putting up signage saying that if their employees aren’t treated respectfully, they aren’t going to serve you or have you as a customer,” she said.
One such example is at Senor Froggy, where the owner of the local chain, Robert Stodola, has had to stand up for his staff, who have been so been bombarded by mistreatment that he gave them all a long weekend off, from Friday to Monday, this past weekend.
“It’s been death by a thousand cuts,” he said of how his employees, many of whom are teens, have been treated by people.
Stodola said 99 per cent of his customers have been amazing and are reacting well to safety protocols, but added some are finding licence in their frustrations with the pandemic-related measures to abuse staff.
“A lot of it is low-key, profanity under their breaths and things like that,” he said.
But other incidents have included people lashing out at staff over being asked to wash their hands or wait in line to place orders.
Stodola said while orders do take longer to place, due to only being able to run one till to follow physical-distancing guidelines and cleaning procedures between customers, the kitchen is running at full speed and people have not been waiting longer once their orders are placed.
A sign posted at Senor Froggy locations reads: “Every one of them is someone’s child — it could be your child,” and “Do not be rude to them or you will be asked to leave.”
Stodola has managed to keep all of his employees during the pandemic and has even hired since it started. But with how they’ve been treated, he has had to pay close attention to how they are handling the added stress.
“We’re just getting into this. It’s a new normal. Everybody needs to remember that it’s going to be like this for awhile. Don’t fight it. It is what it is,” he said when asked what he wants customers to know before coming to Senor Froggy locations.
Other incidents have even turned violent, including an assault that took place at downtown restaurant Mittz Kitchen in early July that ended with owner Steve Mitton being pushed over a table and a plate of food smashed on the floor.
A group of nine arrived at Mittz on July 4, its second stop on a wine tour with TasteFull Excursions. Because of safety guidelines, the group was told it could only be accommodated if sat in groups of six or fewer at restaurants and wineries.
Mitton said the group was obnoxious from the beginning, harassing his staff and trying to order more liquor than allowed, but the conflict came after the group repeatedly pushed its tables together.
After he confronted the group for a third time over the matter, Mitton said one patron smashed a plate of food on the floor and pushed him over a table.
Mitton said he had never experienced anything like it in his nearly 30-year restaurant career and reported the incident to the Kamloops RCMP.
TasteFull Excursions owner Maatje Stamp-Vincent said she has had many customers who are thankful for the safety protocols the tour company — and its stops — have put in place, but also others who she said have “behaved like children.”
“I’ve had to grit my teeth, but I’m kind of done with that,” she said, frustrated with people who don’t follow the rules.
“If a group really wants to get down and dirty and be unruly and rude, I’m not interested. I’m just not interested,” she said, noting that groups must agree to follow all safety protocols before embarking on a tour.
Pangilinan said more should be done to communicate the need for COVID-19 safety protocols.
To that end, the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce released a video last week sharing tips on how to safely support local businesses while they continue to recover.
“I think we need to see leadership across all sectors — community leaders, not just business leaders, talking about the importance of the safety protocols,” Pangilinan said.
“And I think consumers do need to have their eyes opened a little bit. These protocols are not put into place to make things difficult. They’re put in place to keep people safe.”
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