Non-essential Canadian businesses are starting to welcome customers again. But after the temporary COVID-19 closures, there’s a lot of confusion over what is and isn’t safe. Of course, having good hand hygiene, wearing a mask and practicing physical distancing where possible are the general guidelines that we’ve gotten used to now, months into the pandemic. But how do you wear a mask while you’re eating at a restaurant? What about physical distancing when you’re getting a haircut, or a massage? And how can you keep yourself, your bubble, and workers at any business you visit safe?
People working in newly reopened industries have done the work of establishing guidelines for their business that adhere to the different provincial government standards. In Ontario, for example, there are specific guidelines for restaurants, but no similar guidelines for clothing stores, hair salons, nail bars, etc. Workers have also gotten certified in new sanitation methods and now need to make sure that customers follow the new rules. Often, workers are doing this extra work without any additional pay—despite working during a pandemic.
We spoke to four Canadian women working in reopened businesses about how they’re keeping customers safe—and what they want you to know before visiting.
Andrea (Andy) MacIntosh, 47, brewery owner, New Westminster, B.C.
As the owner of Tinhouse Brewing Co. in Port Coquitlam, B.C., MacIntosh has been working diligently to provide an eating and drinking experience that is safe for customers and her staff. Since reopening on May 19, she’s created guidelines that work for her business while complying with B.C.’s provincial health orders, including gathering contact information for all patrons for contact tracing, restricting the number of guests in the lounge to 34 at a time, an abundance of signage and extra sanitization.
“Most of our customers are very understanding about the functional and procedural changes we’ve implemented. But—I’ll be honest—we regularly get customers who either don’t know about, don’t understand or don’t care about the provincial health orders in effect. […] We do a lot more policing of customer behaviour than previously, and it can be frustrating at times.”
“[To make things efficient,] honestly, read the damn signs. I bet every food and liquor space has put up a lot of signage, I know we have, and if people would just follow those directions, it would go a long way. Wash your hands. Respect the bubble. COVID is still very much in our province, and no one should get sick just by going to work. This has been, and will continue to be, a challenging time for everyone. It is nothing like it was, so be patient and respect the policies that we have put in place. Also understand that each business will have a different approach to meeting the provincial health orders, so what is in place at one location may be different than at another […] Our industry has been hit pretty hard, so the local support means a lot. Continue to support all of your local small and medium businesses. Maybe change that one purchase from Amazon to something a bit more local.”
Melissa Doldron, 43, registered massage therapist, Toronto, Ont.
Since reopening her clinic in Toronto on June 1, Doldron has been working with a reduced schedule, additional cleaning measures, smaller staff and an online-only appointment system.
“Things have been good so far, I’ve been very busy, which is wonderful, my clients have been very supportive. There are lots of changes. Less staff in the clinic at one time, no waiting rooms for patients [who wait outside of the clinic if they’re early], more extensive cleaning/sanitizing procedures and screening of all staff daily and patients before they arrive [through a phone or email questionnaire]. Every practitioner is operating on a reduced schedule at the moment. [We are also] pre-screening staff and patients, we have installed plexiglass walls at the front desk, staff and patients are wearing masks and we have implemented additional cleaning procedures. We’ve gone paperless and use online payment only. There are hand sanitizing stations throughout the clinic and outside the front door. And there are still a lot of therapists doing virtual appointments [where physios walk patients through exercises or other self-directed treatment options]. We are all here to provide care and service for healthcare needs, and we are doing our best to keep a safe and clean environment to provide the best care possible. [In order to keep the workers safe, clients should be] wearing a mask and hand sanitizing. And don’t come in if you’re sick.”
Jennifer Perez, 42, hairstylist, Vancouver, B.C.
Since reopening on June 15, Perez and her fellow stylists at Stone Fox Hair have implemented rigorous sanitation procedures, which involve completing certifications to use two specialized disinfectants [barbicide for tools and PREempt RTU for chairs and surfaces] on all surfaces and tools. They also require masks for clients, prescreen every client and stylist through a questionnaire and are not providing blow drying services to limit air circulation (clients getting their hair dyed have a small section blown dry to check the colour). Though Perez was a little “unsure” about going back to work, she trusts that her clients are doing their part to keep her safe when they visit.
“With masks on, and with stylists working so closely with clients, it’s hard. There’s no way to social distance [between clients and stylists; chairs for the clients are distanced]. For stylists, our temperatures are also taken when we enter, and if we’re not feeling well, we do not come in. We also go through the same questionnaire that the clients go through, where we just check in with our boss and manager to see how we’re feeling every day. And we are doing as much as we can to keep the salon as clean as possible. I’m going to trust that the clients have been social distancing and that they have been wearing masks, that they are following the rules. Even though I’m out there and the salon is open, it doesn’t mean that COVID is gone. And so I’m still trying to keep myself as safe as possible from clients. I’m not saying that every client that comes in has COVID, but I have a young family that I need to protect. I think we all need to work together to just protect each other from getting sick.”
Sarah Wong, 23, restaurant server, Toronto, Ont.
Since patio service resumed on June 24 at Omai, the small Japanese restaurant where Wong works, staff at the restaurant have been wearing PPE, maintaining distance between tables, sanitizing all surfaces with an all-purpose cleaning spray and a disinfectant, and washing their hands religiously (Wong herself washes her hands “over 15 times a shift”). Customers are also required to wear a mask if they enter the restaurant (such as when they use the washroom), but they don’t need to while sitting on the patio. Luckily, the vast majority of diners have been understanding of the new protocols and tend to leave fairly generous tips.
“As a server, the social element of the position has definitely changed. Normally, non-verbal cues like smiling and facial expressions are integral to hospitality, but with masks covering our faces, it occasionally feels like I have to bank on eye contact to establish some semblance of rapport with a guest. We also make an effort to speak more audibly and clearly from behind our masks, which sometimes can feel like we’re shouting if the patio is busy. There’s also absolutely no way we can physically distance from dining guests, as we have to refill water, bus tables, and take orders in close proximity, so admittedly I feel a little uncomfortable sometimes. Previously, it did give me a lot of anxiety. My head chef has young kids and that’s enough for me to err on the side of caution with PPE and sanitation at all times, even when I’m not at work.
Personally, I think that customers shouldn’t dine on patios if they have not been responsible. We interact with many people every day and choosing to dine with us without taking caution puts us and other guests at risk. It would also be a good idea for customers to check out the websites or social media of restaurants before visiting them. Working with a smaller staff, reduced seating capacity and a greater focus on dishes that pack well for takeout means that menus and operating hours have changed and will probably keep changing as restrictions are lifted. We’ve had some guests come to dine on our patio and expect that we are serving our regular menu, but some items and the labour involved in their preparation just aren’t feasible at the moment, so they’ve been taken off the menu. Almost all restaurants are making their new menus and operating hours available in some form online, so it would be wise for customers to look for this information before dining at any restaurant to avoid disappointment.”