A Halifax restaurant is pleading with customers upset by the province’s proof of vaccine and mask mandates not to direct frustration at service staff, following a Sunday incident with a group of aggressive patrons. “(Our staff) need to work, they need to pay their bills and their rent. And people are being nasty,” says Christine Bower, co-owner of The Wooden Monkey, in an interview Monday.
Sunday night, just hours before Nova Scotia’s POV policy came into effect Monday, October 4, staff at the Monkey’s Halifax location on Grafton Street were taunted by a table of diners who refused to wear masks. Bower, who heard details of the incident from the server who dealt with the group, said when asked to put on masks the group became aggressive, shouted and threatened to sue the server.
“It was abusive, it was bullying. Telling her that they’re going to get her fired and sued. It’s really harmful,” she says. Bower, who wasn’t at the restaurant Sunday evening, has spoken with serving staff and managers who were present. “I know how upset my staff were, very emotionally upset,” she says.
“I’m very sorry we’ll lose some regular customers over this. But I don’t have any control over it,” says Bower. “Go stand by the legislature. If they want to talk to people who made these decisions, go down to the government.”
The restaurant shared a public letter addressing the group who harassed staff, asking: “what could possess you to threaten and yell at people doing their job? Why can’t you just wear a mask?
“Your actions were hurtful and frightening to our staff. Take your political issues up with the people that make those rules, leave our staff and restaurants alone,” reads the letter.
Restaurants have been abiding by Nova Scotia’s ever-changing pandemic rules on capacity, mask-wearing and now vaccine status since the state of emergency began in March 2020. Bower said enforcing the vaccine policy, which may involve turning away patrons, is well outside the comfort zone of many staff, but it’s something they’re prepared to do.
Another downtown restaurant owner, who declined to be named for fear of attention from “hostile” patrons, tells The Coast that “guests have been nastier than they have ever been” in recent months.
The restaurant owner said he firmly believes in the POV policy, but he’s been disappointed in the province “for not providing more guidance or direction” for restaurants. “It's going to be an absolute free-for-all,” he says.
By the early evening of the first day of the POV policy, Mike Roberts, the operations manager for Halifax Gahan House and Pickford & Black, said things were going well so far. Just “a few customers were annoyed by the process” across the two restaurants, he says in an email. Things were also moving smoothly with showing POV at The Wooden Monkey by Monday afternoon, Bower says.
Since sharing the open letter, Bower said she’s been feeling supported by many in the local industry.
“We’ve had some incredible feedback, and another restaurant manager brought us flowers. The staff have said they’re appreciative of the support and they know we’re going to do everything we can to make things go smoothly and have a happy, healthy work environment. That’s our goal.”