A mother and her teenage son went to grab dinner at Fionn MacCool’s Monday night — but they didn’t end up eating together.
The reason? Because the address on her son’s identification matched his father’s — not his mother’s — even though he lives with her part time.
Under Manitoba’s latest public health orders designed to curb the spread of COVID-19, restaurant patrons can only dine with members of their households — and the only way for restaurants to verify that is to check their IDs.
While the mother and son were amenable to dining at different tables, the situation highlights a confusing and troubling new responsibility for restaurateurs, said Fionn’s owner Jay Kilgour.
"It’s somewhat ridiculous to just stand back and look at it and wonder why," he said Tuesday.
Restaurants across the city have approached the household-only dining rule in different ways; some are checking guests’ IDs, others are taking them at their word, while many have remained closed to diners entirely.
Kilgour said requiring restaurant staff to take on an enforcement role is unfair to workers already overwhelmed by COVID-19 restrictions.
"They’ve made the hospitality industry responsible for something the province hasn’t been able to monitor themselves within households," he said.
"If they really want to crack down on this, the onus should be on the public," he said. "And by all means, let inspectors come into restaurants and the fines should be on the public if they’re going to decide to not follow that order. It’s really tough to put it on restaurants and restaurant staff."
Kilgour said the restrictions have resulted in some diners going to strange lengths to get around the rule.
Kilgour served a group of seven friends on Friday, all of whom sat at separate tables.
"It’s unfortunate," he said. "I get the spirit of the rule, but at the same time, we’re not making the public safer by enforcing that rule because it’s reasonable to believe that if a group of people are comfortable coming to a restaurant together... they’re going to be sitting together elsewhere."
Shaun Jeffrey, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant & Foodservices Association, said the organization has received reports of restaurant staff facing varying levels of pushback from customers over the rule.
"Some operators are feeling that this is causing their business a lot of angst and a lot of stress, because a lot of their customers are not responding favourably to being (asked for) ID...," he said. "They’re being put in situations where there’s minor confrontational situations, and all they’re doing is just trying to follow their due diligence and their operations."
Jeffrey said the rule is putting restaurants in a tough spot.
"I think that for the majority of the industry, we’re seeing a lot of focus being put on the enforcement aspect of it... (and) it’s taking away from the whole general perception of going out to a restaurant, which is a fun low-stress environment," he said.
That sentiment was echoed by Steve Hrousalas, owner of Portage Avenue steakhouse Rae & Jerry’s.
"I hope they realize what they’re asking us to do is not appropriate," he said. "It’s not up to us to have an 18, 20-year-old (server) annoy a customer before they even hit the door."
Jeffrey said the province should collaborate with the industry when looking into changing dining restrictions further: "Give us the science behind your decision and let us make our case.
"When the government makes orders about industries they don’t understand, things like this happen. And when things like this happen, it adds more stress to a situation," he said.
Malak Abas is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.