GENEVA, Ohio — As the service industry struggles due to the COVID-19 pandemic, business owners and employees face a new stressor: enforcing mask mandates and seating requirements at bars and restaurants.
It’s no secret that adults don’t enjoy being told what to do, especially if they feel enforcement infringes on their personal space or choices. Behavioral therapists say there is a complex science that explains why some adults have reverted to infantile behavior during the pandemic.
In recent weeks, there have been several incidents across in the country about high-profile disputes over masks — some of which have grown violent. The owner of a northeast Ohio winery said such a dispute led to property damage over the weekend.
“We did have one incident where a customer punched a hole in the drywall in the men’s room at 7 p.m. on Saturday night,” said Gene Sigel, the owner of South River Vineyard.
Sigel said in 20 years, the winery has never had any sort of property damage, but new state-mandated restrictions when visiting the vineyard appear to have some customers on edge.
“We’re used to enforcing guidelines from the governor,” Sigel said. “But at the same time, asking people to sit down or put on a mask is a whole new range of imposition on people’s personal space.”
While Sigel said the hole in the wall is a fairly inexpensive fix, his employees feel the behavior speaks to the way service industry workers are being treated by customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It certainly played into the tension,” Sigel said. “For whatever reason, somebody felt that the only place that there wouldn’t be a surveillance camera was in the restroom and that was a good place to leave a comment on their feelings as to the requirements here.”
Behavioral therapists at the Cleveland Clinic report there’s scientific data to back up why adults behave this way in stressful situations. “Rebel psychological reactance” refers to the brain’s reaction to a threat to freedom or personal choices.
Therapists believe those frustrations sometimes cause people to abandon common sense and behave erratically, even when safety is concerned.
Sigel said he wants to remind customers to be patient with staff when visiting the vineyard and other businesses and added that employees are all doing the best they can to provide an enjoyable experience despite the new restrictions.
“None of us have a lot of options of places to go. We can’t jump on a plane and fly somewhere,” Sigel said. “We can’t go across the country necessarily in our vehicle, so there’s a greater infrastructure demand at our local events.”
This story was originally published by Emily Hamilton on WEWS in Cleveland.