By Emily Heil
The Granary Kitchen, a popular neighbourhood restaurant in the city of Red Deer in Alberta, Canada, is back open to indoor dining this week after health officials shuttered it for several days after inspectors discovered that the restaurant was allowing patrons to enter who, instead of showing proof of vaccination, shared pictures of dogs.
After getting a tip that patrons were submitting pictures of pooches instead of the required documents, health inspectors sent two separate "test shoppers" to check.
In both cases, "staff used a tablet to make it appear as if they were scanning a QR code when in fact the staff member was presented with a photograph of a dog," Alberta health officials said in an order on Friday in which it shut down the indoor dining area.
The restaurant reopened on Monday, after the owner met with health officials and showed he had complied with the order by submitting a written plan to enforce the rules and training staff on them, health officials told The Washington Post.
The Granary Kitchen's Facebook page explained the closure, calling it "an unfortunate circumstance" involving an "underage hostess" and said it would reopen after retraining staff.
"We would like to remind everyone of the tremendous pressure being placed on front staff, and please remember to be kind," the post read. An email to the owner of the restaurant requesting comment was not immediately returned.
Alberta requires indoor diners to show proof of vaccination, a negative test within the last 72 hours, or a letter of medical exemption.
Cities across the United States, too, are instituting new restrictions on indoor dining as the spread of the highly transmissible omicron variant has caused covid cases to surge.
Starting this week, customers 12 and older must have gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine to dine inside a restaurant in Washington, D.C., and beginning Feb. 15, indoor diners must be fully vaccinated.
Philadelphia, Boston, Minneapolis and St. Paul all have new vaccine requirements for indoor dining. They join cities including New York and San Francisco, which adopted such mandates last year.
Some restaurants are opting to shut down their indoor dining operations and go back to takeout-only instead.
Rise Bakery in Minneapolis this week alerted its customers that its dining room would close, citing the new requirements. "We have made the tough decision to once again stack up our tables & chairs," the restaurant wrote in a Facebook message. "We regret that we can't offer you a place to dine at this time."
An email seeking further comment was not immediately returned, but the restaurant later commented on the post, explaining that "this decision was the best way to help our small and already strained team."
Many restaurants were already facing staffing shortages, and a number of eateries have closed temporarily due to positive cases among staff or potential exposures.
Since restaurants have reopened to indoor dining after the closures that marked the early-pandemic era, restaurant workers have often struggled to do their normal jobs while enforcing such rules as masking and social-distancing, a dynamic that can create conflict with customers.
Workers are having to take on roles that go way beyond their job descriptions, says Teofilo Reyes, chief program officer for the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, which advocates for better wages and working conditions in the industry.
"If you were hired to be a server, it shouldn't be your job to be a security enforcer," he says.
“His organisation has had reports of workers being harassed merely because of their own mask-wearing, he noted, and confronting customers and asking them to comply with rules - whether its masking or showing proof of vaccination - can be dangerous.
Management should offer training, and have someone on hand who can handle customers who resist, he said, so the servers and hostesses are not dealing with them on their own.
And he recommends that restaurants do what they can to communicate the rules to patrons, so that would-be diners do not take out their frustrations on employees.
In Washington, the Big Board, a burger joint, appeared openly defiant of the new rules requiring restaurants to check proof of vaccination starting Jan. 15.
"As has always been the case for us, everyone is welcome," the restaurants tweeted ahead of the date. "This rule applies yesterday, today and tomorrow. Hopefully we'll see you January 16th."
The restaurant was issued a verbal warning on Jan. 15 by Washington health officials for failing to require proof of vaccination and for not posting signs stating the rules.