Restaurateurs speak out against anti-mask patrons mistreating staff

Stephen Deere, owner of Modern Steak, says that when it comes to Calgary’s bylaw mandating face coverings in indoor public spaces, he thinks he jinxed himself.

“I was kind of bragging to my friends in the restaurant community that we’ve had almost no problems, at all,” Deere said. “But the last 24 to 48 hours, things have gotten worse.”

Servers at Modern Steak restaurant wear masks, as mandated by the bylaw. In response, one patron took to social media to attempt to trend #BoycottModernSteak online — but Deere said another incident was much more serious.

“Basically, it’s going to move forward in a legal fashion, that’s how bad it was. I can’t talk about it,” he said.

“But that should sound the alarm … we’re at the point that we’re having discussions, if the last 48 hours continue moving forward, we have to actually consider having security in our restaurants to keep our employees safe.”

Calgary council voted earlier this month to keep masks mandatory for now, with an update coming in December. Masks have also been mandatory in Edmonton in public spaces since Aug. 1.

Fines can be issued and AHS has the power to close businesses and restaurants for non-compliance.

“We’re in a democracy, and I believe you have the right to have your opinion and you have the right to protest,” Deere said. “But when you’re taking it out on the front-line workers and retail and hospitality, and they’re feeling threatened up to the point that violence could occur, it’s time to ring the alarm.

“We are not making the rules. We are following the rules.”

Varied experiences

By and large, Ernie Tsu, owner of Trolley 5 on 17th Avenue S.W. in Calgary, said most issues relating to the bylaw are solved at the door before guests enter the brewpub.

But given his role with the Alberta Hospitality Association, he knows restaurants across Alberta have experienced issues. 

“The concerns are related to the bad apples out there that refuse to follow the mandate,” Tsu said. “The people causing issues at restaurants are also the people that are causing issues in malls and any public spaces that they’re deemed to wear a mask in.”

Ernie Tsu, owner of Trolley 5, said people who don’t understand what has been mandated by the government should not frequent local restaurants at this time. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Brett Ireland, CEO of Bear Hill Brewing — which operates establishments in Banff, Jasper, Calgary and Fort McMurray — said most guests have been compliant with local policies.

“We have had a number of guests who choose not to wear them because they have pre-existing conditions,” Ireland said. “That’s what they tell us, and certainly we’re not in a position to make a judgment on that.”

Ireland said whether or not patrons agree with the mask bylaws from a political standpoint, there are other reasons to comply with the bylaw.

“The other way to look at it for me is, it makes other people more comfortable and therefore more likely to participate in the economy,” Ireland said. “I just don’t see how there’s any net negative to it.”

‘Disgusted and utterly upset’

Deere said his restaurant was already having issues with staffing amidst the pandemic, and harassment from customers has exacerbated that struggle. 

“In our business, many of our hostesses are younger women that are 18 to 22,” he said. “When a larger, older gentleman is threatening them, they don’t come back to work the next day.”

As a born and raised Calgarian, Deere said he was “disgusted and utterly upset” with the behaviour of some patrons — and urged those who disagreed with the bylaw to take their concerns elsewhere.

“Calgary is better than this. We have been known around the world, and definitely in Canada, as one of the friendliest cities,” he said.

“We help people out, we have a western hospitality spirit, and this is how we’re acting? It’s unbelievable that we’ve gone in this direction.”

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