18 Sep 2020

Dunedin pizza outlet denying Auckland customers over Covid-19 risk

From Checkpoint, 5:26 pm on 18 September 2020

Dunedin Pizza parlour Biggies is turning away customers who've been in Auckland because of concerns over the spread of Covid-19 but says it is not a blanket ban.

A couple posting on social media claimed a staffer at Biggies Pizza questioned them about whether they were from Auckland and if they'd travelled overseas and then refused to serve them because they'd been in the supercity 16 days earlier.

Health authorities say the Auckland community cluster of 54 cases is contained, but the city remains at level 2.5 while the rest of country is alert level 2.

"Each of our customers who enter are judged on a case by case basis. We certainly do not have a blanket ban on Aucklanders," Biggies Pizza owner Tacey Millard told Checkpoint.

"Our restaurant manager asks three simple questions when people want to come in. One is: ‘Have you been travelling and where?’

"Another is: ‘Have you been in Auckland?’ and another is: ‘Have you had any Covid symptoms?’

"Depending upon the answers and the attitude of the customers, because obviously we run this on a very high trust level, because people can lie to questions, and we make a decision on whether we consider it to be safe to have these people, diners, customers, in our tiny little restaurant."

Millard said the restaurant will take travellers who have been to Auckland if it has been at least 14 days since they were in the city.

"The people who wanted to come in for drinks last night, they had been outside of Auckland for two weeks plus three days. But they were exceedingly rude to my restaurant manager when she asked questions, and were not interested in being helpful at all.

"So she made the judgement call not to have them dine with us. We have a tiny restaurant and we are under social distancing regulations at the moment, so we've had a lot of tables closed.

"Our staff are our family, and our loyal customers who come every week. We look to protect them."

She says a small number of Auckland people have visited and understood the precautions.

"I guess it's an indication of the attitude of these customers [on Thursday night] that they immediately posted scathing reviews and went straight to media.

"We've introduced extra rules because we have a very small venue. We’ve had a drop in our turnover by over two thirds, due to the lockdown levels. There are other venues in town that have had to close because a staff member or a customer has had to go and get Covid testing. And to be fair if we had to close that would probably be the straw that broke the camel's back," Millard said.

"Business is difficult, really difficult at the moment, and we have to make decisions that support our business long term.

"Contrary to popular belief, restaurants and bars are not public property, they're private property and we have right of refusal for any reason that is not discriminatory.

"We have incredibly professional and kind staff here who are trying to keep everybody happy and look after everybody in the best way they can. And we are getting an exceeding amount of negative feedback from fake reviews, direct messages, text messages to our restaurant phone, abusive messages. And I feel that [the duty manager] has done exactly what I have asked of her and I am very happy with how professional she has been and how kind and generous, she is to all of our customers."

Aucklanders visiting Dunedin can order takeaways from the restaurant though, Millard said.

"We offer contactless delivery, we unfortunately would probably not want them to hang around the restaurant if they wanted to pick up, but I would be happy for them to place an order and then we would give them contactless handover delivery, we'll give them a call when it’s ready and they could come and grab it."