Alberta restaurants stressed as customers bite back about proof-of-vaccination requirements

Alberta restaurants that have been struggling through the pandemic are now facing a new challenge: backlash over the province's proof-of-vaccination program.

Whether on social media or in-person, angry feedback taking its toll

Remedy Cafe owner Zee Zaidi says the new proof-of-vaccination program is costing him customers and money. (Jamie McCannel/CBC)

Alberta restaurants that have been struggling through the pandemic are now facing a new challenge: backlash over the province's proof-of-vaccination program.

Officially called the Restrictions Exemption Program, which went into effect on Monday, it gives restaurant owners an option to require proof of vaccination from customers, which would then allow them to continue operating their indoor dining areas. 

Dining establishments that don't opt-in must abide by the Alberta government health restrictions, including no indoor dining, and limitations around who can sit together at outdoor tables.

But some restaurant owners who have opted into the program say they're experiencing unhappy customers and extra work to implement it.

"People are very mad at us," said Zee Zaidi, who owns the Remedy Cafes in Edmonton. "Very harsh messages."

Zaidi said the proof of vaccination requirement is causing people to complain on social media or express their anger directly to staff.

"People are walking out. They don't want to share the information," he said.

Similar animosity prompted Tina Lungle, owner of The Metal Kettle in Camrose, Alta., to post a message on Facebook urging customers to remain civil.

"Please remember we are all trying to get through this together and many business and staff members are stressed and extremely tired, so please be kind," Lungle wrote.

Like Zaidi, Lungle has been getting pushback from customers.

"We're getting a lot of, I guess you'd say, hate mail," she said.

"The Facebook comments, the messages saying things like they're not going to be supporting us, and we're going to be losing money, and they're going elsewhere."

A staff member at Remedy Cafe checks a customer's proof of vaccination. (Jamie McCannel/CBC)

Her staff is experiencing negative feedback both when asking customers to show proof of vaccination or when customers are leaving the restaurant, she said.

"We've had a couple of instances where my staff member was worried in the morning just because of body language and movements and that kind of thing, the possibility of it going further," Lungle said. "I've just advised my staff to make sure they put distance between themselves and the customer."

She thinks people are directing their anger at the wrong people.

"It's not fixing anything by grumbling and sending hate mail or being rude to our staff," she said. "Go talk to the MLA, go to someone that can maybe change things."

Businesses are also dealing with the extra work of checking for proof of vaccinations or the negative COVID-19 tests, either bringing in extra staff or by adding the work to someone's usual responsibilities.

"Who's going to pay for this extra employee when we are already a hurting business?," Zaidi said.

Puneeta McBryan, executive director with Edmonton's Downtown Business Association, would like to see businesses being compensated.

"I have at least one, if not two businesses, that I know for sure who have now hired essentially a door person," she said. "That's a huge cost to incur."

McBryan would like to see micro-grants, such as ones offered earlier in the pandemic for companies to purchase personal protective equipment.

"We definitely need a new version of that, and whether that comes from the province or city remains to be seen," she said. "It's untenable to be asking businesses to once again be taking this on when most of them are just barely hanging on."

As for animosity from customers and clients, McBryan said that is nothing new.

"Businesses and front-line service staff have been enduring abuse and obscenities since COVID started and masks were first a thing," she said. 

"I hate to say it but a lot of our businesses are getting pretty used to it. Definitely call the police if things are escalating." 


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