Kelowna restaurant workers facing abuse from disgruntled customers and anti-maskers | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kelowna restaurant workers facing abuse from disgruntled customers and anti-maskers

Christina Skinner of Frankie, We Salute You! is speaking out about how the abuse of service industry workers is going unchecked.
January 12, 2021 - 8:00 AM

Christina Skinner has been in the restaurant industry for 25 years, and she’s never had to deal with mistreatment the likes of which she’s endured repeatedly in the last four months.

Skinner owns Frankie We Salute You!, a restaurant at 1717 Harvey Ave. Since provincial health orders started requiring everything from masks to reduced occupancy and contact tracing measures there’s been a backlash.

“It was the worst when the changes first came into effect. That first week and a half it was unbearable. Every day I had a staff member in tears, someone freaking out or people threatening to sue the host,” Skinner said.

“Then things did die down a little bit after that — people settled into the routine — but it still happens regularly enough that it’s grinding us down and those at other restaurants in Kelowna as well.”

One of those incidents is readily available for people to see on the Kelowna restaurateurs business Facebook page. It shows a woman taking issue with her phone number being taken, as per provincial health recommendations around contact tracing.

Complaining that she doesn’t want her number on the contact sheet, the woman started to yell at Skinner to remove it. Skinner can be seen asking her to leave during the process and the woman then yells about her perceived treatment, all the while recording the interaction.

“You could see how angry she was (on the video),” Skinner said. “It wasn’t justified for what was happening in the restaurant.”

Regardless, it left Skinner and her staff shaken.

It’s something that she said could have easily been put to rest quickly had someone else spoken out or if there were just repercussions for the type of behaviour service industry workers are being forced to endure.

Skinner said she “100% supports” the health protocols set out by Dr. Bonnie Henry, but there are side effects that need to be addressed.

“People are allowed to treat restaurant workers like this without repercussions,” she said, adding later that she called RCMP in the aftermath of the incident and while they were “supportive and empathetic” she was told there was nothing that could be done.

Until something in that area changes, she wants her fellow service industry workers to start speaking out.

“People are afraid of speaking up and don’t want to rattle cages when we are already down by 50%,” she said.

“This isn’t just us. This is happening at restaurants, coffee shops and hairdressers in Kelowna. We have a tight-knit community and it’s happening to everybody. If any good comes from this (it shows) what we deal with on a daily basis.”

If more people speak out, she said, maybe there can be a more meaningful conversation of what can be done to keep people safe, not just from the virus.
Skinner also said that it’s not a matter of judging someone for their beliefs and understands this is a time where emotions are running high.

“We live in a country where we can believe and say what we want, the issue is that understanding if you want to create change there are ways to do that and blaming minimum wage workers, isn’t one of them,” she said.

“There is a lack of understanding of what creates change and there’s misplaced anger and fear.”

Misdirected anger has been on display throughout the last year.

One example close to home was a video of a man screaming at Shuswap restaurant staff after he experienced a delay with his food order. The video was posted to Facebook by Amanda Toms Aug. 7, 2020 and it went viral.

“(I ordered) an hour ago, and you’re not making my food,” the man screams.

After the staff person tries to hand him a bag of food, the man replies, complete with expletives: “I don’t... care anymore! I’ve got to go feed my two-year-old. If you can’t take orders, tell people you can’t!”

The video has been seen thousands of times and even gained the attention of American tabloid publication TMZ.

Alongside the video they wrote, “If people are losing it in Canada, we're in big trouble.”

Other incidents have followed and yet nothing has changed, even as regulations have become stiffer.

All B.C. employers are required to have COVID-19 safety plans in place and must ensure both staff and patrons are following provincial health orders and recommendations.

People caught breaking the orders could face fines of up to $25,000 and jail terms of up to six months, under B.C.’s Public Health Act.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Kathy Michaels or call 250-718-0428 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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