Ontario restaurant operators say they are hopeful vaccine passports will help them remain open for business this fall, but are concerned about interpreting proof-of-vaccination certificates and enforcing the rules.

Sachit Mehra, owner of family-run East India Co. Restaurants in Ontario and Manitoba, said enforcement of public health orders is being downloaded onto restaurants with little guidance.

While he said he supports a vaccine certificate system, he's worried about how staff will interpret vaccine documents from different provinces or states and whether the additional responsibility could worsen an already dire labour shortage.

“The onus and responsibility seems to be on restaurants and their staff to figure this out,'' Mehra said. “If somebody comes from another jurisdiction, we need to make sure we don't make the wrong judgment at the door.''

In Ontario, where he said the family's two Ottawa-area restaurants contend with a chronic labour crunch, Mehra said it might be difficult to find staff to enforce the vaccine passport rules at the front door.

“If you're going to ask somebody to be at the door (checking vaccine passports) rather than serving or bussing, there may be legitimate questions or concerns they have,'' he said.

Still, Mehra said the safety of staff and guests remains his top priority and that he's hopeful the proof-of-vaccination system will help restore public confidence with dining in a restaurant.

“This is another layer of public safety, like (sanitization) stations, acrylic shields, contact tracing and physical distancing that will ensure customers feel confident coming to our restaurants,'' he said.

Manitoba launched a vaccine card in June, which will be expanded to restaurants starting Friday.

Ontario said Wednesday it will require residents aged 12 and older to show a vaccine receipt and a piece of government-issued photo ID starting Sept. 22 in order to access the indoor areas of restaurants, with a QR code being rolled out next month to serve as proof of vaccination.

James Rilett, vice-president of Central Canada for Restaurants Canada, said restaurant operators in Ontario would prefer to see a mobile app and QR code as soon as possible to make it easier for staff to interpret vaccine certificates.

“The fact that we have to wait seven weeks for a mobile app is surprising considering other provinces already have them operating and working well,'' he said. “It leaves staff at the door trying to figure out if the paperwork that we're being presented is proper.''

He also said while there is general support for the vaccine passports in the restaurant industry, it comes with an additional cost to hire and train staff to verify health records at the door.

While licensed restaurants with servers trained in responsible alcohol service, or Smart Serve training, might have an easier time verifying the vaccination passports, Rilett said many restaurants are not experienced in checking IDs.

“They don't know the procedures for asking for the identification and how to address someone,'' he said. “I think the biggest concern for staff is having to confront somebody and tell them they can't come in.''

Rilett added: “It was one thing to enforce masks ... but this will definitely be a little more complex for restaurant staff.''