Service industry manager shares COVID-19 experience

'Blessing and a curse'

An Okanagan man working in the service industry is sharing his experience and some tips for those looking to enjoy summer winery visits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bryan Penfound spends the summer months managing a winery tasting room on the Naramata Bench and he says reopening amid Phase 2 of the province's reopening plan "has been both a blessing and a curse."

"There's a lot of people that are travelling and they're very fortunate to be able to travel to the Okanagan," he said, speaking not on behalf of the winery he works for, but himself and his colleagues.

"Theres a lot of miscommunication happening between the servers in the industry and the people that are expecting a normalized vacation."

Penfound says while some of his staff are grateful to return to work, they are now facing some unique problems.

"Fewer people want to work, yet the demand in the service industry is higher than ever. For some, the risk of exposure to COVID is significant enough that they are uncomfortable coming back to work. For others, it is easier to remain on CERB than come back to work," he says.

"Whatever the reason, the bottom line is that the service industry is severely understaffed with regards to how high the demand is." 

Because there is less staff able to work, the staff who have chosen to return are feeling overworked. These servers who are returning are likely not getting a wage increase as companies are scrambling to regain revenue lost during these unprecedented times. 

"And with physical distancing making the number of tables in the average restaurant lower than normal, this means that it is harder to supplement a server's wage with tips, making it even more appealing to remain on CERB for some," says Penfound.

"While it was very beneficial to have at the beginning, I know that some people are trying to balance still receiving that funding and working as little as possible to make up a little bit of extra money so thats certainly been a little bit of an issue for some of my colleagues because they can't bring people back full-time.

Or they have people who are not willing to come back cause of the risk. We are really at risk as a service industry. People who are caring for individuals who are immunocompromised obviously don't want to work."

In addition to this, many guests expect to receive normalized service without being aware of COVID-19 safety protocols. 

"We're still getting quite a few people that just don't really understand that we have a lot of policies in place to really protect us and our guests," says Penfound, adding he has encountered some negative experiences with customers as a result of this.

Some of the biggest challenges include people not being aware that reservations are essential when visiting a winery as well as there is a six-person maximum for tastings. Lots of groups between 10 and 12 people are frequently being turned away. 

But Penfound says there has been a lot of positive feedback from customers visiting.

"They get a lot more time to talk with my staff and have a very good conversation about the wines, food pairings, things like that," he says.

"We're really happy to be hosting people and we're really happy to see the support but a lot of people just need that understanding that if their expectation is to have a normalized experience, then thats not what we're going to be able to deliver."

While policies vary from winery to winery, Penfound has shared some words of advice for visitors:

"Be kind. Your servers are likely overworked, underpaid and stressed out. If we are short with you, it’s likely because we’re exhausted trying to get everyone to adhere to our safety protocols. 

"Book ahead and have patience. Your servers will do their best to accommodate you, but they can’t always make that happen in a timely manner due to the high demand. Understand that sometimes we have to turn you away. 

"Keep your close contact group small. Your servers represent a unique at-risk group due to the sheer number of guests seen during a given shift, so keep us safe by keeping yourself safe and keeping your bubble small.

"From all of us in the service industry we thank you whole-heartedly for your support and understanding."

More Penticton News