Going to a patio? Here's what some Toronto servers want you to know

As patios reopen this summer, some restaurant and bar staff are frustrated by certain customers' behaviour while they work a higher-risk job that’s tougher and slower under COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Tip well, don't touch workers, be patient and stop moving tables, staff say

A server wears a mask as she brings drinks to patrons on a pub's curbside patio in the Byward Market in Ottawa, on Sunday, July 12, 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Serving tables takes longer under new COVID-19 public health protocols, industry workers say, urging customers to have patience. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

Work is anything but normal for Madison Pereira, as she serves drinks in the summer heat while wearing a mask and constantly sanitizing.

But you might be fooled watching some of her customers.

"There are some people who, I guess, kind of forgot we have this worldwide pandemic," said Pereira.

People walk around to talk with other groups, she says, or try to grab drinks straight from her hand.

Others move to sit at empty tables — meaning she has to sanitize everything all over again.

"It's a bit more like herding sheep than it used to be," says Jeremy Mizu, a server at Smokeshow BBQ in midtown Toronto.

With patios re-opened in Ontario this summer, some restaurant and bar staff are frustrated by certain customers' cavalier behaviour, while staff work a higher-risk job made tougher under COVID-19 safety guidelines.

They're urging people to follow the rules, have patience, and keep a few things in mind.

Not 'business as usual'

Ani Gallina sees customers get impatient when asked the COVID-19 screening questions, with some cutting her off or rolling their eyes.

She says some people get offended when she asks them to keep physical distance.

"A lot of people are being oblivious ... or taking it personally," said Gallina, a host at a Toronto restaurant. "It builds up an anxiety."

It's frustrating when people walk in like it's "business as usual," says Jamal Severin-Watson, co-owner of Loveless Cafe on Dundas Street.

Some people act like he's the "bad guy" for asking for contact tracing information, he said — but he's just following public health guidelines.

Jamal Severin-Watson, co-owner of Loveless Cafe on Dundas Street West, says some customers act like things are "business as usual"—despite all the precautions his bar is taking. (Laura Howells/CBC)

"We're trying to do everything we can, and all we need you to do is read a sign," said Severin-Watson.

"On top of COVID, I don't need the city being pissed at me."

Ontario's Alcohol and Gaming Commission said it would do more inspections this weekend, after "recent examples of bars in Toronto violating the restrictions." The commission launched an investigation into a downtown Toronto restaurant this week, after a video showed patrons crammed together while surrounded by unmasked employees.

Be patient, this might take a while

Everything takes a lot longer now, said Mizu, who urges customers to have patience.

Staff are constantly sanitizing and cleaning, he said. Plus the tables are physically farther apart, so it takes longer to get places.

People wait to be seated outside of a bar in Vancouver this spring. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"We're all trying to figure out" the process, said Abby Rubiales, general manager at Fabricca restaurant in Don Mills.

They are running on fewer staff, she said, and safety standards in the kitchen slow things down as well.

"It's really funny to me that people are shocked that it's a two-hour wait."

'You just can't touch me'

Once seated, people need to "sit down and keep their hands to themselves," said Pereira.

"It's very much like a Kindergarten rule, but certainly what's needed right now."

And don't touch the servers, Mizu said.

"People will still kind of grab your arm as you walk by just to get your attention," he said.

"You just can't touch me."

Working at a downtown Toronto restaurant, Ani Gallina urges people to wear a mask when they first come in to get seated. (Submitted)

Pereira is glad to be back at work and says most customers are understanding. But some people still act like it's a party, she said.

"We're really not trying to kill anybody's vibe,' she said. "We're just trying to protect ourselves from COVID."

It's hot in a mask

Alexandera Yetman says her downtown pub's customers have been great, but wearing a mask for more than six hours in extreme heat is extremely uncomfortable.

She's had dizzy spells, headaches, and canker sores since going back to work.

Alexandera Yetman, a server in downtown Toronto, doesn't want customers to wear masks outdoors, but says it "doesn't add up" that staff have to wear them outside. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Customers aren't required to wear a mask outside. But Gallina, who works as a host at a restaurant on Church Street, says she'd feel safer if customers wore a mask when they first come into the restaurant to be seated.

Don't take a table 'hostage'

Nicole Byng, who works at a restaurant on King Street West, urges people not to linger too long at their table.

The restaurant can serve fewer people under new guidelines, Byng said, and there are huge lineups.

Holding a table "hostage" ends up hurting the restaurant's bottom line, she said.

Customers on a Toronto patio during the first day of Stage 2 in June. (Jeremy Cohn/CBC)

'Tip big'

Staff don't necessarily have a choice to go back to work, as refusing could mean losing CERB benefits.

But they're also serving fewer tables — meaning fewer tips.

Pereira said staff are sometimes "dividing pennies."

"Tip big," said Sorcha King, speaking on CBC's Metro Morning last month. It can act as the "hazard pay" staff aren't getting, she says.

Sorcha King wears a face shield while she works on the patio at Peter Pan Bistro in Toronto. (Submitted)

"If you can afford going out at these times, you can afford five extra dollars for the luxury of doing so," said Gallina in an email. 

"It's much appreciated by the people putting themselves in harm's way to make you happy while still keeping you and everyone else safe."

A sign outside Toby's Pub on College Street in Toronto, during Stage 2 of the COVID-19 re-opening. (Laura Howells/CBC)


Laura Howells is a multi-platform reporter and radio producer. She has worked for CBC in Toronto, Hamilton, Whitehorse, and St. John's. Send story ideas to and follow her on Twitter @LauraHowellsNL.