A photo of the exterior of The Wooden Monkey, a restaurant on Grafton Street in downtown Halifax. The front of the restaurant is brick with yellow paint. Customers are on the patio and inside.
The Wooden Monkey

Today is the first day of the proof of vaccination mandate in Nova Scotia and many non-essential businesses across the province now have to ask customers for proof of vaccination upon entry.

Day 1 was a smooth day at The Wooden Monkey, which has locations in Halifax and Dartmouth. But staff at the Halifax location faced difficult customers on Sunday afternoon. The restaurant’s co-owners, Lil MacPherson and Christine Bower, shared this social media post on their Facebook and Instagram pages Sunday night after.On Monday, the Examiner reached out to the owners of The Wooden Monkey. Bower, who is also the vice-president of operations, said Sunday’s incident had nothing to do with the proof of vaccination mandate, but rather a customer’s complaint about wearing a mask. She said she wasn’t at the restaurant Sunday, but got “very upsetting” calls from her staff. 

Bower didn’t want to share all the details of the incident, but she said a customer said they had an exemption for wearing a mask and showed the server a card. The customer then threatened the server, telling her she’d can be fired, made comments about lawsuits, and said not accepting the exemption card was a violation of human rights. 

“She was just trying to do her job,” Bower said. 

Bower said the server didn’t want to continue serving the table and went home. She said she and MacPherson shared the social media post because of how the staff were treated during Sunday’s incident.

“It was more about the treatment I was focused on,” Bower said. “Everyone has the right to do what they choose to do, but in our restaurant we want to make sure our staff are protected and they are spoken to properly and have a happy work environment.” 

“In 17 years of being open, I never put a social media post like this out. I’m not trying to create hostility or divide. I am just asking people to be respectful to the staff.” 

Bower said she closed off the comments on the post, although Facebook and Instagram were both down most of Monday. 

The server is a full-time student and wasn’t working today. As of this morning when the Examiner spoke with Bower, she hadn’t had a chance to speak with the server, although Bower said she got a message from the server last night. Bower said she didn’t think the customers were regular customers. She told the server to give them her phone number and a business card, but Bower hadn’t heard from them. Bower said she was shocked and confused by the incident because the mask mandate has been in for months now.  

“Be kind,” Bower said. “I am not telling them to go get vaccinated or not. That’s their business. Inside our walls, I am protecting our staff. They can go stand on Citadel Hill all day, it doesn’t matter to me.” 

A black and white photo of Justin Zinck who is the marketing and brand manager with Garrison Brewing Company in Halifax. Justin is wearing a plaid shirt and has a beard and glasses. He's standing in front of a brick wall.
Justin Zinck is the marketing and brand manager at Garrison Brewing Co. in Halifax. Photo: Contributed

Justin Zinck, who is the marketing and brand manager with Garrison Brewing in Halifax, said in an interview that Day 1 of the mandate was “so far, so good” for the business. 

“Obviously we are enforcing the requirements, but so far no big upsets,” Zinck said. “Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come.” 

Garrison Brewing started laminating customers’ proof of vaccination at its taprooms about three weeks ago to get ready for today. They were so busy laminating cards the machine got jammed.  

“I think our regulars knew this was coming and we weren’t not going to enforce it,” Zinck said. “The fact we were laminating people’s cards meant there would be an expectation that we’d want to see those cards.”  

Beyond laminating cards, Zinck said the company did training with its staff on how to enforce the mandate, including training for de-escalation. 

“On the rare occasion, we have customers who can become overindulged, over-refreshed, so we have that training already on how to de-escalate those situations,” Zinck said, “so it’s a similar sort of feel. But at the end of the day, if someone wants to have an altercation, there’s going to be an altercation, so training the frontline staff is so important.” 

Zinck added that Garrison hasn’t really experienced any hostility around COVID restrictions over the last year or so. He said if customers came into one of the taprooms without a mask it was often because they were visiting from another province that had lifted its mask mandate and they simple forgot or didn’t know about the mask rule in Nova Scotia. He said those customers were often apologetic and purchased a mask there. 

“That’s the level we’ve had to push back on,” Zinck said. “We haven’t had anybody come out and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I am not wearing a mask and you can’t make me.’”  

The Canadian proof of vaccination is now available to Nova Scotians. Showing proof of vaccination is now mandatory at many non-essential services.

Gordon Stewart is the executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia (RANS). In a phone interview, he told the Examiner while there was no training for its members and their staff on how to deal with difficult customers under the proof of vaccination mandate, the association did send out resources on the protocols (those protocols aren’t on the RANS website, but RANS told the Examiner they encourage member to visit the province’s website here).

While it’s only the first day of the proof of vaccination mandate, Stewart said he expects to hear from some members about challenges they may have with customers. Other restaurants, he said, have had to deal with customers not wanting to wear masks.  

Gordon Stewart, executive director of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia. Photo: Contributed

“No one wants to do this,” Stewart says. “It’s an extra step you have to do that you wouldn’t normally have to do. But the other side of the coin is that most of them [member restaurants] realize we’re still in a pandemic and it could still cause a lot of pain if we don’t adhere to what are good health policies.” 

Stewart said part of their education has been directed at customers. He said customers should have their proof of vaccination card ready to show staff at a restaurant, along with a piece of ID.  

“If you do that, it’s less than 18 seconds at the door or 18 seconds at the table,” Stewart said. “[Staff] can process it at the door or they can have a signup saying go to your table and before you order, we can check your POV (proof of vaccination) and ID. It’s easier that way.” 

As for potential conflicts, Stewart said they are telling members not to confront customers. 

“There will be people who will be stubborn and will try to exercise what they think are their perfectly legitimate rights,” Stewart said. “But it’s not. Right now, it’s the law. Restaurants don’t make the law; they’re just mandated to do the check.  If people aren’t willing to do that, then all you need to do is start calling the police.” 

Enforcement officers from food inspection from the Alcohol, Gaming, Fuel and Tobacco Division of Service Nova Scotia will be out and about in restaurants. Stewart said there is a fine of $2,422 for those customers who don’t comply. 

Stewart said RANS has had meetings with Public Health around the modified rules of Phase 5 to try to make it easier for restaurants to move into that phase. For example, he said they worked around the idea of checking for proof of vaccination when customers are at their tables as opposed to having customers wait in long lineups at the door that can cause congestion. 

Stewart also said that the mandates comes at a tough time for the industry as many restaurants are dealing with labour shortages. He said RANS has asked for compensation to help with that shortages similar to the one-time $5000 grant restaurants in Halifax could receive during the temporary shutdown in late 2020.

Restaurants aren’t the only businesses that will have to enforce the mandate.

Recreation Nova Scotia, a not-for-profit that promotes the values and benefits of recreation and leisure, has on its website a document outlining all the requirements of the proof of vaccination mandate and how it will apply to its members.

That document also includes a section on dealing with disturbances and recommends businesses call police, if needed. But that section also mentions training from Skills Online NS, a free training course that can help staff deal with difficult customers.

According to its website, Skills Online NS is described “as partnership between Nova Scotia’s Department of Labour and Advanced Education, CBDC & Bluedrop that gives every resident of the province access to thousands of FREE online courses on the most important workplace topics to improve their skills and career prospects.”

Recreation Nova Scotia suggests its members look three of those training programs — Working in a Challenging Time, Specialties: Customer Service, and Bullying and Violence in the Workplace — to deal with conflicts that may happen because of the proof of vaccination mandate.

A screenshot from Recreation Nova Scotia's document on COVID protocols and training for staff who have to work with customers who may not want to comply.
A screenshot from Recreation Nova Scotia’s document on COVID protocols and training for staff who have to work with customers who may not want to comply.

Movie theatres are also required to ask for proof of vaccination. The Examiner reached out to Cineplex, which owns and operates theatres in Nova Scotia, and Melissa Pressacco, director, communications, sent along this statement:

Our frontline teams are trained and prepared to accommodate the new process and will accept the following as proof of identification: government issued ID card like a driver’s license and passport, as well as health card, birth certificate, student card and Secure Certificate of Indian Status. We accept paper or digital copies of vaccination records, or screen shots. We ask guests to please arrive 30 minutes in advance of their showtime and to come ready to present their proof of vaccination and identification.

We are looking forward to moving to full capacity in our theatres in the province. Out of an abundance of caution, we continue to implement a variety of safety protocols including mandatory masks for employees and guests, enhanced cleaning to ensure a safe and healthy environment, and maintaining at least a one-seat gap between booked movie tickets to allow for space between seated guests. We are confident in our approach and our health and safety track record to date, noting that we have welcomed millions of movie-lovers during the pandemic, and had zero instances of transmission traced back to any of our cinemas.

As for restaurants, Zinck at Garrison Brewing Co. said he has a message for customers. 

“The reality is that none of us want to be where we’re at,” Zinck said. “That was very clear when Dr. Strang said at the last briefing. The reality of the community benefit as a whole, we’re here now and that’s a reality for us. If you can have that document ready for us … it will make everyone’s life easier. If you forget it, you forget it, you have to go back home and get it. That’s the reality. We’ve got this far, let’s get over this next layer.” 

At The Wooden Monkey, as Day 1 of the proof of vaccination mandate wraps up, Bower said training her staff on how to deal with these situations is “on the top of the agenda.” She said she will contact RANS about protocols, adding they already have a booklet of rules they are reviewing to make sure they are doing what they’re supposed to do.  

She said the first day of the mandate was a smooth one at The Wooden Monkey and they’ve had support from other restaurants, including deliveries of flowers. But like they did in the social media post on Sunday, she wants to repeat the message out to customers.

“I totally understand the frustration, but I don’t make the rules, though. They keep saying that small business owners should stand up and buck the system. But there are heavy fines involved. Everyone needs to feel safe and be safe. COVID is real. Let’s just get through it and try not to be so divided.” 

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Suzanne Rent

Suzanne Rent is a writer, editor, and researcher. You can follow her on Twitter @Suzanne_Rent and on Mastodon

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