Angry pandemic-era customers? Restaurateurs, retailers fear vaccine mandates will make things worse – Press Enterprise
Camila Perry, who owns two bars in Hollywood and Sherman Oaks, tried to be proactive in notifying her patrons ahead of time about the city mandate that requires people to show their proof of vaccination before entering establishments.
A month ago she posted a reminder on social media about the rules. A few days later, she displayed a sign requiring patrons to show their immunization cards.
But some of her customers were still surprised when they were asked to provide their vaccine verifications in early November. The same night the mandate went into effect, a group of patrons got so upset they began yelling at her staff.
“They were arguing with us,” she said. “They were getting (angry).”
Since the mandate became effective Nov. 8, Perry, like many other business owners, worries the clashes are going to escalate as their workers are left to enforce new government rules and deal with patrons yelling, throwing tantrums — or worse — in response to government mandates.
Over the last 20 months, the restaurant industry has been on a roller-coaster, grappling to adjust to lockdowns, mandates, vaccination requirements and rules. That has taken an emotional toll on restaurant workers.
A recent report by restaurant analytics firm Black Box Intelligence said nearly 60% of restaurant employees said they had endured emotional abuse from customers. About 78% of workers reported their mental health being negatively impacted in the past year.
Workers from other retail businesses have taken a hit, too:
–A Target security guard in Van Nuys was left with a broken arm last year after a fight with two customers who refused to wear masks.
–A man was taken to a hospital in Santa Monica’s Vons this month after a fight over mask-wearing.
–An unmasked customer in Huntington Beach sprayed a worker with a cleaning spray and demanded they that show proof of vaccination.
Nearly 80% of food and service workers said they’ve experienced or witnessed hostile behavior from customers in response to enforcing COVID-related mandates, according to a survey of 1,700 workers by One Fair Wage. About 60% said they experienced hospitality on a weekly basis, according to the same survey.
Most workers said they had experienced a significant decline in tips since the pandemic began, particularly when trying to enforce COVID-19 safety protocols.
Some businesses have been pushing back against the government rules.
In media reports, Burger chain In-N-Out Chief Legal and Business Officer Arnie Wensinger described vaccination mandates as “intrusive, improper, and offensive,” refusing to require their employees to check customers’ vaccination status. Health officials temporarily closed several locations in Northern California following the company’s refusal to check customers’ proof of immunization.
An owner of Basilico’s Pasta e Vino restaurant in Huntington Beach displayed a sign in a window, saying “Proof of being unvaccinated required.”
The rules customers face vary — proof of vaccination rules differ from county to county.
Both Los Angeles County and the city require residents to present proof of vaccination to dine inside certain businesses. The county’s rules, though, apply to fewer types of establishments compared to the rules in the city of L.A.
Under the city’s mandate, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, breweries, wineries, food courts, dance studios, hotel gyms, shopping malls, moving theaters, nail and hair salons, piercing shops and outdoor events with 5,000-9,999 attendees will need to ask proof of immunization.
Elsewhere in Southern California, officials have not placed additional vaccine-proof rules on retail businesses, but residents are subject to state vaccine rules when attending large events. In Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, patrons are required to show proof of immunization or a negative test result for indoor events with more than 1,000 guests and outdoor events with more than 10,000 people.
Earlier, Inland counties refused to follow Los Angeles County’s lead requiring vaccination cards for patrons in bars, wineries and nightclubs.
‘A lot of babysitting’
At Perry’s The Oaks Tavern bar in Sherman Oaks, in addition to mixing cocktails and pouring drinks, her bartenders are now assigned to keep an eye on guests and promptly tell them to pull up their masks or move outdoor if they are not vaccinated.
“There’s a lot of babysitting that they’ve had to do for this past months,” she said.
A customer recently began arguing with an employee because he was asked to show an ID with his immunization card.
“People who are not vaccinated are pushing back,” she said.
At times her employees walk on eggshells, Perry added, while trying to “nicely enforce” government mandates.
“No one wanted to lose money,” she said. “All these people are the people who are tipping them.”
She added that “some people say: ‘I can’t believe you’re enforcing this’ and just leave.”
“We’ve had people screaming and yelling and they’re gonna sue us, they get right up in my girls’ faces,” said Cesilia Bracamontes, owner of the Retro Reload vintage clothing store in Lomita, “but my girls are good and they stay calm.”
She added: “It’s a really ugly climate. We provide disposable masks, and you can tell who just forgot their mask and who is going to be mad. And they just start screaming. It’s pretty hard, I don’t know what else to do. This climate is so crazy right now. People are just so aggressive right now.”
But customers throwing tantrums is hardly a new phenomenon. Employees have been dealing with pushback for months since the mask mandate went into effect last year.
“All the little things that we have to enforce,” Perry said. “People are looking at us like we’re crazy.”
Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry Commerce Association, said it was going to be “bumpy a couple of weeks” as patrons are getting adjusted to the new mandate.
“You’re going to have people who want to fight with workers and people who argue about their safety and argue about their freedoms,” he said. “But you’re also going to have people who are going to feel safe coming to an establishment.”
Waldman said there are customers who not going to get vaccinated, but until COVID-19 numbers go down, “this is how we’ve got to survive.”
Although the rule went into effect earlier this month, the city won’t enforce it until Nov. 29, allowing businesses to make necessary changes.
Establishments that don’t comply with the rule would be fined from $1,000 to $5,000.
Richard Carpiano, a professor of public policy at UC Riverside, said the cases of customers attacking restaurant and store workers are rare as a vast majority of people are behind the need for vaccines.
“We should be applauding businesses,” he said, adding that by obtaining vaccination proof from customers businesses show they’re concerned about the safety of their employees and patrons.
People tend to gather indoors during holidays and chilly weather, he added, and “keeping customers safe is good for the economy. It’s good for business.”
As for people who cause problems because they refuse to get vaccinated, he said, “you were given a choice. Nobody took away your freedom. You had a choice whether to get vaccinated or not. But choices have consequences. In this case, we have to think about impacts of our behaviors and our actions on other people.”
Lorena Sanchez, owner of Bob’s Big Boy in Northridge, said the mandate makes it hard logistically to very people’s vaccination status and figure out who needs to stay or leave.
“People sometimes get mad for very simple things,” she said. “If we have a party of six and one person doesn’t have proof of vaccination. What are we supposed to do?”
Sanchez pointed out that it was unfair to ask workers to be on the front line checking people’s vaccination cards while businesses are facing labor shortage and retention crises.
“People get upset very easily,” she said. “They are hungry and don’t have patience. It’s going to create more problems for us.”
Staff writer Kristy Hutchings contributed to this report