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‘Completely unacceptable’: COVID-19 customer rudeness reaches breaking point in B.C.

Customers behaving badly over COVID-19 safety protocols
Some B.C. businesses are taking extreme measures to protect their staff from a few customers who are behaving badly and refusing to follow COVID safety protocols. As Kristen Robinson reports, the abuse ranges from verbal tirades to physical assaults.

Many B.C. restaurants and retailers already struggling to recover from the pandemic are now imploring the public to be patient with staff and respect the rules — after reports of customers behaving badly in response to COVID-19 safety protocols.

From verbal attacks to physical assaults, the backlash directed against employees is forcing some business owners to take extreme measures.

“It’s a death by a thousand cuts, it’s day after day,” restaurant owner Robert Stodola told Global News.

“This is stressful for every single person.”

Read more: B.C. restaurants tighten guidelines amid new spike in COVID-19 cases

Stodola runs two Senor Froggy Mexican restaurants in Kamloops.

He recently posted signage at both locations stating that “abuse towards our staff has been appalling” and warning that any rude behaviour will result in customers being removed from the premises.

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The operator of the second-generation family business said he wanted to protect his staff after he recently encountered a young employee in tears.

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Province announces new restrictions as active COVID-19 cases grow

When he asked her what was wrong, she reluctantly admitted that she’d been subject to four separate incidents of customers lashing out over COVID-19 rules in one shift.

“I was disgusted,” said Stodola.

“Being sworn at, being told to put their handwashing stations somewhere unnatural.”

Read more: Coronavirus: From Plexiglas to leaving contact info, what dining out could look like in B.C.

Ironically, the full hand wash station that some diners object to using, was actually assembled with customers’ best interests in mind.

Stodola invested in plumbing in order to transform his pre-pandemic salsa bar into a sink with running water because health officials say old-fashioned soap and water beats alcohol-based sanitizer when it comes to cleaning your hands.

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Province tightens rules at bars, nightclubs and restaurants as the number of COVID-19 cases rise
Province tightens rules at bars, nightclubs and restaurants as the number of COVID-19 cases rise

After consulting with all of his staff members, Stodola said he was shocked to learn everyone had experienced the same verbal abuse.

“Frankly it really upset me, it boiled my blood.”

He’s not alone. The Kamloops Chamber of Commerce said it’s hearing stories from both sides, but the bad conduct seems to stick out.

Read more: Restaurants may never go back to ‘normal’ after COVID-19, experts say

“That behaviour is quite appalling,” executive director Acacia Pangilinan told Global News.

Before Phase 2 and 3 reopenings, Pangilinan noted that businesses were “pretty much kicked to the ground for a couple of months.”

Now, some businesses are getting kicked around.

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B.C. restaurants need plans in place to support people to follow the rules: Dr. Henry

Things literally reached a “breaking point” inside another restaurant in the Southern Interior city earlier this month, when one of the owners attempted to enforce a health order on a tour group that kept pushing their tables together.

“They threw their plate of food on the ground and actually assaulted the restaurateur,” said Pangilinan.

“That is completely unacceptable.”

Kamloops RCMP are investigating the July 4 incident at Mittz Kitchen, in which an owner was allegedly pushed over a table.

The original complaint now includes counter allegations, but Mounties said at this point it’s unclear if any charges will be recommended.

“It’s hard to continue to do business when people just don’t listen and they don’t respect the rules that are in place,” Pangilinan told Global News.

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READ MORE: Coronavirus outbreak at B.C. fast-food restaurant a ‘wake-up call’: Henry

The Kamloops Chamber of Commerce has since released a video with tips on how to safely support businesses and reminding customers to be calm through the pandemic.

“Just try to have patience and kindness and I think the person on the receiving end will really appreciate that,” said Pangilinan.

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B.C.’s top doctor calls fast-food restaurant outbreak a ‘wake-up’ call

Senor Froggy staff recently got a much needed break from the relentless mistreatment their boss said they’ve endured.

Stodola closed both restaurants to give employees an unexpected summer siesta in the form of a four day weekend.

“Ninety-nine per cent of our customers have been amazing,” said Stodola.

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“But those ones that feel licensed to abuse a 17-year-old girl at the till just doing her job, that’s not OK.”