Restaurants game for vaccine passport program, but wary of added cost

It will be a few weeks before restaurants know just how much it will cost them to implement the province’s new vaccine card program.

While the industry has embraced the program for the most part, as it means not having to close or face further health restrictions this fall, some industry veterans have suggested there will be significant labour costs as a result of screening for vaccine status at the front door.

Paul Hadfield, owner of Spinnakers Gastro Brew Pub, said he’s all for the vaccine card, but it will mean putting a senior member of his staff at the front door.

Hadfield feels it would be unfair to ask someone new to the industry, and at a lower pay grade, to take on the responsibility and perhaps face belligerence when asking for proof of vaccination.

Other Victoria restaurants are planning to hire security staff to handle vaccine screening.

“That’s a whole new level of cost that wasn’t there before,” Hadfield said, noting it could cost $1,960 to $2,450 a week based on wages of between $20 and $25 an hour, seven days a week. “What will the province give us to help them implement their plan? That’s a lot of money.”

The vaccine-card program, fleshed out Tuesday by Premier John Horgan, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix, is designed to spur on vaccinations, as it will require customers, as of Monday, to show proof of vaccination to enter many indoor public places, such as restaurants, sports venues and theatres.

“As a motivator, I think it will serve its purpose,” said Hadfield, noting he intends to add new glass to his porch and screen all customers outside starting next week. “The challenge is we will have this extra job — there is no question it puts a greater onus on operators.

“But clearly we have to do it. We will do what’s necessary to stay open. Being closed is just too difficult, traumatic for individuals and to the economy.”

Ian Tostenson, chief executive of the B.C. Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said the association had delivered a wishlist to the government ahead of the program’s rollout and the details revealed Wednesday suggest all the boxes on that list have been ticked. “This has been well thought out.”

The association had been looking for new signage, time and material for training staff on how to check ID and vaccine status, examples of the kinds of vaccine proof and ID staff will see, fines and penalties for restaurants that flout the rules and separate rules for quick-service restaurants.

Tostenson said a quick-service restaurant like A&W tends to have people come and go quickly, seating is different and there is little need for a screener at the door.

As for funding to offset added labour costs at full-service restaurants, Tostenson said they will wait and see.

“If we see a situation developing with more costs added, then we will talk to government again in a couple of weeks,” he said, noting that the government has signalled that it’s open to helping.

“When we have presented the right business case with rationale and objectivity, they have been there and will be there,” he said. “They have had our back.”

It’s unclear what impact vaccine cards will have on events in the concert and performing arts industry.

Concerts at Victoria’s largest indoor venues, Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre and the Royal Theatre, are on hold until protocols relax and capacities increase, and nightclubs have not reopened.

Lindsey Pomper, general manager of Sidney’s Star Cinema, did not expect the vaccine passport to cause any problems. “Judging by how well people accepted the mask mandate, I feel like audiences will do the same,” Pomper said.

Patrons of the movie theatre have been co-operative with social distancing and other health protocols throughout the pandemic, she said. “It has been hassle-free. We have signs up, and people seem to respect that. People know the routine.”

Organizers of the Victoria Fringe Festival, which continues until Sept. 23 at the Metro Theatre, will have staff checking proof of vaccination from Monday onward. Sean Guist of Intrepid Theatre, which produces the event, said they don’t expect any problems.

“People are just excited to be back at the theatre. We’re being as safe as we possibly can, and this is just one other step in that process.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

— With files from Mike Devlin

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