By Andru McCracken

Restaurants in Valemount and McBride are dealing with a whole new animal when it comes to seating their clients.

Restauranteurs, in some circumstances, must obtain proof in the form of a vaccine card that a patron has received at least one dose of vaccine in order to be served in a premises (two doses starting Oct 24). Whether or not a restaurant is required to check the status of its patrons comes down to whether or not the patrons pick up their food themselves or have it brought to them at the table.

According to Patricia Thoni at the Caribou Grill, the first days of checking patrons for their vaccination status were rough, but it’s gotten better with time.

“We are doing okay,” said Thoni. “People seem to know now.”

She said some would-be diners were taken by surprise.

“The first couple days people didn’t listen to the news or read the big red sign,” she said. “Now more people are aware that you cannot come into the restaurant without it.”

She said that business is down since the latest mandate from the Provincial Health Officer has taken effect, but that take-out orders have increased.

Thoni said people often ask the restaurant to fight the public health measures and not check vaccination status, but that’s not a fight Thoni is willing to fight.

“We have to do it,” she said. “If we don’t abide by these regulations we could be fined up to $2300.”
The Caribou Grill will close this fall, which isn’t unusual, however this year, they will close from October 5 to December 2.

“We are going to miss a couple months of [vaccine checking],” she said.

Thoni said a busy summer has helped make up for the circuit breaker closures that previously had them closing with less than a day warning and with piles of wasted food. She appreciates the warning.

Ted Davis of the Riverside Cafe in Tete Jaune said that he has had to shift how they do business.

“We’re no longer able to offer table service,” said Davis. They are offering take out instead.

Tanya Russell, who runs the Valemount Gathering Tree, said she is feeling lucky. New public health restrictions won’t make a massive difference for her, though climbing COVID rates and the threat of new health measures leave her on edge.

“The way the rules are written I am fitting into the fast food coffee shop category,” said Russell.

She has shifted from using plates and mugs to takeaway containers.

“It’s terrible for the environment and my budget,” she said.

Russell said she was very concerned about the cost and implications for her business when she first heard about the measures.

She said she is worried about what new measures Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry will put into place as COVID infections rise.

She’s glad that as the summer rush ebbs that she won’t need to check people’s vaccination status.

“Turning someone away in the shoulder season is obscene,” she said.

While the long lead up to the new measures caused her sleepless nights and worried days she said that foreknowledge makes it easier to manage.

“The last time they did those circuit breaker restrictions in the spring we found out the day before,” she said.
Russell has been impressed with customers.

“Overall the people that have been travelling seem patient and kind,” she said

Linda Fry said that the Gigglin’ Grizzly Neighbourhood Pub has to check people’s vaccination status before admitting them.

The restaurant will stay open from Thursday to Sunday for evening hours, but their first weekend was rough.
“We had to turn away a few parties. It’s difficult,” said Fry. “I also think it’s confusing for the public.”

Fry said it took some time to figure out the script, the way staff let people know that they need to check vaccination status.

“I think it’s confusing people to understand the rules are different in different establishments,” she said. “It’s also difficult for people to understand the risk the business owner is in.”

She said one party told her she should fight the mandate in court. Fry said she has no stomach for that battle.

“I don’t like turning customers away, but I don’t like the responsibility of not turning customers away either,” she said.
Fry will close, as usual, in the mucky seasons, fall and spring.

“Rudy and Patricia [Thoni] have got the right idea, they get out of it earlier than I do,” she said.

The Grizzly will close as planned in mid-October.

Fry said a looming crisis in the health care system will cause the powers that be to take harsh actions.

“If you put yourself in Dr. Bonnie Henry’s position or Premier Horgan. Now we have this crisis in the health care system, ICUs are at capacity, Alberta has serious problems. If we get pushback through protests… where do we go from here? It wouldn’t surprise me if we had another lock down.”

Fry said that the stress has been building.

“We’re all getting fatigued by it,” she said. “I just wonder what is next.”