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Hospitality owners report online abuse and false bookings by Digital Covid Cert critics

One restaurateur said he had received a message saying: “You’ll get what you deserve.”
Jul 23rd 2021, 3:36 PM 36,042 128

HOSPITALITY BUSINESS OWNERS are reporting some false bookings, abuse of staff over the phone and social media abuse by people opposed to the Digital Covid Certificate. 

Indoor dining is set to open on Monday, with draft guidelines for the sector expected to be published tonight. The guidelines will outline the measures set to be in place in restaurants and pubs. 

A meeting involving the hospitality industry, government officials and representatives from Fáilte Ireland is taking place today to put the finishing touches to the new guidelines. It’s expected that restaurants and pubs offering indoor services will have to check both the Digital Covid Certificate and photo ID of each adult customer at the door. 

False bookings

Meanwhile a number of pubs have been reporting receiving abusive phone calls, threats of false bookings, and abuse on social media. 

Some publicans are said to be worried that there might be a physical presence of protesters when pubs reopen. 

Lists of restaurants opening on Monday are being shared on social media and the message-sharing app Telegram, with users encouraging people to book in for meals – and then leave when asked for their Covid certificate as a form of protest.

Damien Grey of Liath restaurant in Dublin said that his restaurant had contacted 1,000 customers, two of whom said they would not show vaccination passports.

Other hospitality owners who spoke to The Journal on condition of anonymity said they were wary of posting online or commenting publicly on the issue for fear of being targeted.

JP McMahon, restaurateur behind Aniar, Cava and Tartare in Galway, has had to introduce a credit card policy for bookings at his restaurants due to fears about false bookings.

He announced on social media yesterday that “due to the continual threat of fake bookings from people who disagree with the government’s new regulations regarding vaccination for indoor dining, we are asking for credit card details for all booking across the three restaurants. Apologies for any inconvenience.”

McMahon said that his restaurants “are getting a phenomenal amount of emails giving out, saying we’re policing this two-tier society. And then people are saying we are going to book your restaurant when you are open and not going to turn up.”

He told The Journal that he hoped that other members of the hospitality industry would follow his lead. 

I put [the tweet] up mainly for the industry as well. I know I’m not the only one – a lot of people sent messages telling me they have the same issue.

The booking system won’t allow a person to use a fake credit card to book.

McMahon said that he was concerned as his three restaurants are small, “and we can’t afford to have this happen”. They had previously introduced credit card bookings to try and prevent no-shows in two of their restaurants. 

“Whether or not you agree with the law; you mightn’t agree with the law, but it’s not the restaurant that is making the law. If people want to protest they should protest against the government if they want,” said McMahon.

“But I think hurting businesses is not the way to go.”

McMahon said he had experienced some animosity online, with people telling him “you’re gonna get what you deserve”.

“It’s really bizarre,” he said. “I don’t think people realise how it affects restaurateurs or business people. We are essentially a family business. It’s not like we’re an anonymous corporate machine; they do affect you because they are personalised messages.

Protesters

A small number of protesters turned up outside one of McMahon’s restaurants last week, and said they will return again next week. “I said ‘see you later’,” said McMahon.

He said that though he didn’t expect major issues with protestors at his own restaurant: “I just hope it doesn’t get ugly because there is a lot of irrational anger out there.”

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McMahon also pointed out that this window for re-opening is crucial for the hospitality industry. 

He added: “It’s very hard to know [with threats] online are they serious – is this someone just having a rant at you and nothing is going to happen, or is this someone who is going to come down to you? Are they just keyboard warriors?”

He said he is particularly concerned for pubs and the safety of pub workers. 

Telegram

On the messaging app Telegram, The Journal looked at the content of popular anti-lockdown groups and found there is a small cohort of users who are saying they will make a restaurant booking and then walk out when asked to wear a mask or produce a Digital Covid Certificate.

Some people are also identifying and sharing businesses that have said they won’t open until they can open for everyone, or who say they won’t be checking Digital Covid Certificates, and encouraging people to give them business.

Conversely, a smaller number of people are identifying businesses that will go by the rules and are calling for them to be targeted. In the groups we looked at, there are general suggestions that there should be protests or other forms of action against those sorts of businesses.

A garda spokesperson said regarding the abusive behaviour experienced by some hospitality business owners:

“If a person is the victim of threatening phone calls they should take down the time and date of the call. If there is a number there then that should be recorded. If there are text messages, take a screenshot of the message. The incidents should be reported to their local garda station and it will be investigated.”

- Additional reporting Stephen McDermott, Christina Finn and Niall O’Connor

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Aoife Barry

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