COVID passports have generally had a negative effect on the number of diners eating out at Mission restaurants, according to four local owners who spoke with The Record.
The owners said business is still significantly down from pre-pandemic revenues, with most adding staffing remains a big issue.
“It’s just such a tricky thing,” said Mike Tran, owner of Little Saigon. “Business owners, we’re stuck right in the middle.”
A series of new restrictions were immediately imposed on the Fraser Valley east health area by the provincial health authority on Sept. 28.
The region has the lowest vaccination rate and highest rate of transmission in the Lower Mainland, and those suffering from other ailments are being forced to have surgeries postponed due to the number of COVID patients clogging up the ICU, according to Dr. Bonnie Henry.
The only restaurant not reporting further losses since the passport was implemented on Sept. 13 is The Blackberry Kitchen.
Owner Kerry Martin said he noticed it being a little slower at first, but they’re “gaining back momentum now.”
He said their patrons have been more positive than negative when it comes to having to be scanned, choosing to view it as a safety feature.
But the revenues are still down approximately 40 per cent compared to a regular year, Martin said, and the biggest issue is staffing.
“Almost everybody is restricting operating hours and days-open based on the ability to staff things,” he said.
But not every customer experience has been positive for the local restaurateurs.
Vicky Apostolopoulos, an owner of Eleni’s Restaurant, said they’ve lost long-time customers over the passport, and more than half their indoor dining dollars.
“Inside, two-thirds, I’m not kidding,” Apostolopoulos said. “People are very upset, but we have to stay with the law … I care for the customers, but there’s nothing we can do. It’s not our fault, they should not get upset with the restaurant.”
On the other hand, she said they’ve also seen a lot of support from other frequent diners, even from those who don’t agree with the rules. Overall, she’s optimistic the numbers will eventually return to normal, and the takeout numbers are up.
Mission Station Grill is also seeing less customers, said owner Josh Haldin, though adding September is generally a slower month.
Overall, they’re down around 20 per cent each month compared to pre-pandemic numbers. While surviving, he expressed some anxiety about further restrictions, and keeping staff on is a problem.
“It’s been really tough for the cooking staff and front staff. I’ve gone through four or five people in the last six months,” Haldin said.
Little Saigon has lost between 15 and 20 per cent of their indoor diners since the passports came in, according to Tran. He said business had just started to pick up again.
“Customers are getting pissed off, and they don’t want to show their (passport),” he said. “I say ‘OK, I’m really sorry, it’s not up to me.’”
He said a couple of staff have even quit on him because they didn’t want to get their shot.
“We make ends meet, but just barely breaking even right,” he said. “We lose money on customers walking away, and then we lose staff. Either way, it’s a lose-lose.”
As of Sept. 27, Mission is tied with Chilliwack for the second lowest vaccination rate in the Lower Mainland at 78 per cent (one shot); proof of both shots will be required to dine out by Oct. 24 (Mission’s at 70 per cent).
Ian Tostenson, a spokesperson for BC Restaurant and Food Services Association, said that while the latest restrictions won’t impact restaurants further, lower vaccination rates can be correlated with a decline in business.