Restaurant staff seeking proof of vaccination receive threats, verbal abuse

Some restaurant owners in eastern Ontario say staff members faced a barrage of threats and verbal abuse when they sought proof of vaccination on the first day Ontario required it.

Restaurant owner in Rockland, east of Ottawa, says customer threatened to destroy the place

Bill Mahfouz, owner of Benny's All Day restaurant, says a customer who couldn't provide proof of vaccination cursed at staff and threatened to damage the property. (Brian Morris/CBC)

Bill Mahfouz arrived at his restaurant Wednesday to find his long-time server dealing with an irate customer, who threatened to fill his pickup truck with bricks and come back to destroy the restaurant that's been in Mahfouz's family for more than 30 years.

The customer did not approve of showing his proof of vaccination, which was required beginning that day.

"I'm still shaking, you know, at 8:30 in the morning to be hit with this. It's unnerving and to see my staff having to deal with this, this was our biggest fear from the beginning," Mahfouz said.

Restaurants, gyms and theatres are among the Ontario businesses who now need to screen customers for proof of vaccination, and it didn't take long for some to report confrontational customers who had to be turned away at the door.

Mahfouz owns Benny's All Day restaurant in Rockland, just east of Ottawa. He says the confrontation first thing Wednesday became physical.

"As I was jumping in to help her out, [the customer] grabbed the door and literally almost broke a swinging door, slammed it so hard and went outside and was just yelling and screaming," Mahfouz said.

The man then threatened to return and damage more property.

"We're all for this vaccine passport. All my staff [are] vaccinated. But to put the onus on us to police this thing is just really, really tough and unfair," he said.

The server, Julie Pratt, has worked at the restaurant for seven years and knew the customer well, serving him many times. She said she was shocked to see the violent and threatening behaviour.

WATCH | Restaurant owner Bill Mahfouz on receiving threats:

Customer threatens staff at Rockland restaurant over proof-of-vaccination requirement

1 year ago
Duration 1:30
Bill Mahfouz, owner of Benny's All Day restaurant, says a customer who refused to show his proof of vaccination unleashed a “profanity-laced” tirade on a server, and threatened to come back to cause damage to the restaurant. Server Julie Pratt says she was shocked by the customer’s behaviour.

Confrontational customers

Tony Elenis, president and CEO of the Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association, said these types of customers remain his members' biggest concern.

He advises members to ensure the person working the door relays to the customers this is a government regulation that must be followed.

"It is not the employer or the employees that are dictating the rule. There are major fines associated with this regulation if they don't do their job," Elenis said.

He does think Ontario should offer some sort of compensation for restaurateurs who may need to hire more staff to fulfil  screening demands.

WATCH | Ottawa mayor asks people to be kind regarding vaccine passport rules:

Mayor asks residents to keep their cool over proof-of-vaccination requirement

1 year ago
Duration 0:40
Mayor Jim Watson urged customers of restaurants, gyms and theatres to be respectful to staff members who ask for their proof of vaccination.

'Complaining ... isn't going to change the rules'

During the morning breakfast rush at The Thruway restaurant in Carleton Place, west of Ottawa, owner Bill Katsoulis said they turned away about 10 tables of people who couldn't provide their proof of vaccination.

While some left without issue, Katsoulis said others became verbally abusive to the young hostess at the door.

He said his parents started the restaurant in 1977 and it's hard for them to see customers so unhappy, but they understand the rules are there for a reason.

"The rules that were set in place are not just for our customers' safety, it's for our staffing safety and for our safety as well," Katsoulis said.

"Coming to the restaurant and complaining or whatever isn't going to change the rules. That's not up to us, we just have to follow them."

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson has urged people to be respectful of those young people working in industries that require them to ask for vaccination proof.

"My hope is that we will not have to rely on bylaw coming to tell a grown man to stop yelling and berating an 18-year-old host or hostess at a restaurant or a gym," Watson said.


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