Restaurants in B.C. will soon be on the front lines of enforcing the province's B.C. vaccine card requirement — a new provincial health order that will make proof of vaccination mandatory in order to enter a number of non-essential businesses.
As of Sept. 13, British Columbians will be required to prove they've had one dose of vaccine for entry to restaurants and other non-essential businesses like movie theatres, fitness classes and shows.
By Oct. 24, two doses will be required.
After having to pivot to delivery-only during the first wave of the pandemic, a second shutdown of indoor dining during the third wave and an ongoing labour shortage, it's been a tough go for B.C. restaurants.
But many in the industry say they welcome the move by the province to limit restaurant dining to those who have been vaccinated against COVID-19.
"The majority of restaurants are really happy about this. I think the reason is, if we do this, we should never see a restaurant in B.C. shut down again," said Ian Tostenson, the president of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association.
"I think this is going to provide that long term predictability and stability that we need so badly."
Still, there are questions about how the industry, which is currently facing a major labour shortage, will be able to enforce the new rules.
Shaun Layton, who co-owns Como Taperia, said his restaurant seats between 100 and 200 people a night, and that he hopes the process will be streamlined.
"It is something that is going to be very hard for some restaurants to execute," he said, adding his restaurant plans on having a manager at the front of the restaurant to take some of the pressure off other staff.
"To be checking that every night, I hope we have the tools to make it an easy process in a time where we're already very lean on staff."
B.C. has provided few details of how the program will work, but said on Monday the B.C. vaccine card will be available online for use on a smart phone — similar to a vaccine passport being launched in Quebec.
For those who can't access proof of vaccination digitally, the province says a "secure alternative option" will be available, and that B.C. is working with other provinces to determine how people vaccinated elsewhere can prove their vaccine status.
A year and a half of ups and downs
The restaurant industry in B.C. has fared better than in some other provinces. B.C. was one of the only provinces that kept indoor dining open throughout the winter, only closing it briefly in the spring at the height of the third wave, though even then, patios remained open.
With indoor dining remaining open with restrictions in place, junior restaurant staff were often left to enforce provincial health orders that mandated masks, and limited the number of people per table.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday the order is no different than checking identification to make sure someone is old enough to enter a bar or nightclub — but that the province would be providing businesses with support in the form of bylaw officers and environmental health officers.
Tostenson said restaurant staff could also phone the police if someone is refusing to comply with the new rules.
"We're the hospitality industry — we're not there to confront people. And this isn't something we conjured up — we're following what we think is a common sense policy by the government," he said.
Layton said he hopes B.C. residents will have both patience and empathy with restaurant workers once again on the front lines of a new provincial health order designed to keep them safe.
"Personally, I've got no problem telling somebody they can't come in if they don't have proof of vaccination, but I do feel for some of our peers that do have junior staff on the doors," he said.
"I'm hoping that people will be understanding that things may take a little longer and hopefully no one gets harassed."