A Kelowna restaurant owner says she felt calm but terrified as she asked an abusive woman who refused to wear a mask to leave the business.
Christina Skinner had to step in after the woman berated a young staffer over the mandatory mask policy and denounced COVID-19 as a conspiracy.
"I tried to stay as calm as I could but I was terrified," Skinner said Monday, recalling the confrontation with the woman.
"It was an awful experience, but unfortunately one that isn't all that rare," Skinner, owner of the Frankie We Salute You! restaurant at 1717 Harvey Ave.
Skinner says she decided to speak out about the unsettling incident in mid-December to try draw public attention to the difficult situation she says restaurant owners are in because of the mandatory mask order.
"I support the public health orders 110%," Skinner said. "But confrontations like this one are almost a weekly occurrence. They're causing an unbelievable amount of upset during what is already a very stressful time for the restaurant industry.
"My staff is really my primary concern," Skinner said. "Because of incidents like this, they're suffering burn-out, anxiety, and depression. They're wondering if the want to work in this industry anymore."
During the December incident, the customer arrived without a mask but took one that was offered by staff. Once seated at the bar, however, the woman started yelling that COVID-19 is a conspiracy and that contact tracing was a violation of her rights.
When Skinner intervened and asked her to leave, the woman started recording their interaction and subsequently posted it on the restaurant's Facebook page
Skinner, who opened the restaurant in May 2019, said about 10% of customers make a point of thanking staff for working during the pandemic, and 85% comply with the mask requirement and other COVID-19 protocols without comment.
"But about five percent are simply awful," she said. "They're disruptive, argumentative, and unkind to our young wait staff. They're the ones who really wear you down."
Skinner said similar unpleasant encounters are increasingly common in the industry. But she said many business owners are reluctant to talk about it.
"I think restaurant owners are just deciding not to speak up about this," she said. "They don't want to rock the boat because they're afraid of losing customers."
Skinner hopes members of the public understand businesses have no choice to but ask customers to comply with the public health measures.
"Since this (incident with the abusive customer) happened, we've had a ton of support," Skinner said. "Like a lot of businesses right now, restaurants really need help from the community."