I can’t wait to tell my daughter about the year that was 2015. It’s the…
Briscola Italian restaurant owner Gianni Guglielmin calls it “COVID Excuse Fatigue”—customers increasingly frustrated with delays and staff shortages and resorting to abusing employees.
While Gianni said COVID had not impacted on demand for tables, he had witnessed an increase in verbal attacks on staff who were already massively overworked.
“It’s becoming a worrying trend in hospitality as customers have seemingly lost patience with the excuse of staff shortages and do not accept slower or poor service.”
Yet the ACT Government’s decision to allow close contacts of COVID sufferers to avoid quarantine if they have no symptoms from Wednesday would be a welcome reprieve for business.
“There is 100 per cent relief about the rule change. The feeling is that it’s long overdue and will help all industries.”
Gianni said he and other restaurant owners had been exhausted in dealing with constant staffing issues but also trying to manage customer expectations around those shortfalls.
The staff who were dealing with the brunt of “COVID Excuse Fatigue” were often inexperienced and casual workers who were “doing their best under the circumstances, in often chaotic situations, trying to explain a situation and apologising when delays occur”.
“At Briscola, we have put up signage and messages on our website seeking patience and kindness and our signage mentions a zero tolerance to abuse.”
Yet Gianni said there had been a number of verbal attacks on staff and “we have examples of customers stepping in to offer young staff assistance in an abusive situation—and an increase in bad online reviews.”
Yet the news wasn’t all bad, “as a paradox, we have witnessed the best in customers with an increase in tipping and record patronage!”.
Braddon’s United Retailers and Traders (BURT) represents an estimated 300 commercial operations and 3500+ individuals employed in Braddon’s private sector.
Spokesman Kel Watt said the relaxation of isolation rules would bring “immediate relief” from Wednesday but could not breath pre-pandemic life back into the precinct.
“Many businesses in the Braddon precinct are reporting trade levels around 70 per cent down since the pandemic started and 21 businesses have closed on Lonsdale and Mort Streets since February last year. More plan to and others are trying to sell and at least one business owner has had to sell his house to avoid bankruptcy,” Kel said.
Next month in its annual survey of business experience Kel said BURT would specifically address the issue of abuse of staff, to ascertain how pressures had built on traders.
He noted there had been several instances of violence on Lonsdale Street but this was during the anti-vaxxer rallies with the vocal minority of interstate protesters seeking to “stir up trouble”.
Longer-term impacts of COVID-related behaviour on staff would be looked at in the survey as well as the overall impact of the pandemic on business viability. He said the picture was unlikely to be pretty.
“No local business owner believes they can ever make up for the loss of revenue and opportunities. The extension of loans, new loans and selling assets to maintain a business in the hope they will be able to secure its future, is reported across the board. Multiple relationship breakdowns directly attributable to financial stress have also been reported. There is a very real and massive human cost to the pandemic that has not been seen, felt or even acknowledged by many in the public sector, or by Government leaders,” Kel said.
Co-owner of the family-run Ainslie IGA Manuel Xyrakis said he had never known such staffing stress.
Manuel said he was relieved to report there had been no abusive behaviour towards his staff specifically but customers had had to line up for longer periods and purchase substitute products when shelves could not be replenished either due to staff shortages or supply chain issues.
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“I think everyone has been pretty patient all things considered, but the costs to the business have been horrific and we are all very, very tired.”
Manuel reported that managers such as himself had worked thoughout the night on multiple instances and gone entire days without a break in order to cover holes in rosters. He had had 50 staff infected since Christmas day, and many more off when they were identified as close contacts.
While the changes to the contact quarantine regime would lessen the impact on staffing, Manuel also expressed some concern that the changes may result in higher case numbers.
“Who is to know if a close contact does in fact go on to develop COVID? It could be a very difficult winter for us all.”
“I always want to put the safety of my customers first and I am very conscious of the number of elderly people who come and do their shopping with us. I think it they will need to continue to wear their masks and be very careful.”