A rising number of COVID-19 variants is forcing restaurants to ask diners for proof of vaccination and negative test results to avoid closing their doors for good, yet again.
As of today, New York City, San Francisco, New Orleans, and most recently - Berkeley, Honolulu, and California have enacted mandates that require proof of vaccination when dining indoors, going to the gym, attending concerts, and more. For now, only San Francisco and New Orleans have put into effect their mandatory proof of vaccination requirements (or negative COVID results); however, Honolulu and New York City will follow this month i.e. from Sept. 13 or from next month (Berkeley on Oct. 15).
The mayor of New York City, announced on Monday, 3rd August, that proof of vaccination will soon be required when dining in restaurants in New York City. For noncompliance, restaurants could be fined. This is the first order of its kind ever issued in the U.S. Mayor Bill de Blasio said the Department of Justice made it clear that a mandate of this nature was very much needed.
Information about vaccines, as well as COVID-19 in general, has become a political issue. Local and state governments are often divided by party lines concerning how mandates are passed and enforced.
When it comes to restaurants, they are generally free to ask for proof of vaccination status prior to serving diners, and merely objecting to a vaccination—for whatever reason—isn't sufficient to get around this requirement.
Restaurants are faced with increasing vaccination requirements, and here are some tips on how to make their operations seamless and easy to comply:
Train employees on how to recognize vaccination proof
In NYC, residents can download their vaccine passports via the Excelsior app, but in some cities this is not an option. Before booking a reservation at a restaurant, patrons may choose to take a snapshot of their vaccination card or download the newly available vaccine verification feature on their devices. Hence, it becomes important that all employees undergo updated training on identifying vaccine proofs effectively, as well as recognizing fake proofs.
Request vaccine cards and identification from customers
In order to prevent fraud, restaurants should require patrons to show their license or other form of identification as well as proof of vaccination. The law requires this in New York City, but it is simply common sense for all restaurants to demand identification along with vaccination documents to ensure there are no mismatches in names, and thus decrease the chances of fraud.
Should be able to deal with hostile and aggressive patrons
Restaurants should remember that they are on the right side of the law despite pushback from patrons who don't have proof of vaccination to eat indoors. The restaurants should be prepared to deal with difficult and belligerent customers tactfully. They should make a point to train their employees well to handle such difficult situations.
Restaurants must adjust to this next phase of the pandemic, whether by following local COVID-19 regulations or by making the decision to require vaccination proof. This adjustment inevitably will help many in the restaurant industry - and their customers, of course - breathe easier.
Pete Sittnick, managing partner of Waterbar and Epic Roasthouse in San Francisco said, “We initially got a bunch of highly negatively charged responses like ‘take me off your mailing list, how dare you tell me what to do with my body, etc. But I’d rather have these reactions online ahead of time than dealing with them coming in. […] Overall, people were really happy we were doing this and prepared to show their card.”
Sittnick said they were prepared with the signage that is provided by the City of San Francisco informing customers about the compulsory requirements for vaccine cards. It has been quiet and all good so far, and Sittnick has not had to turn away any customers. However, he did notice that there has been an increase of requests for outdoor dining over the past two weeks.
At Dirt Candy on the Lower East Side, New York, chef and owner Amanda Cohen began requiring vaccination proof the same week that the requirement was announced. A guest is notified three times-"when you make a reservation, even before, it says we require proof of vaccination and we are requiring masks when you’re not at the table. When you get the confirmation, it says it again. When we send a text day-of to reconfirm, it says it in there.”
Cohen and her team believe that a government mandate makes it easier to enforce the policy. “Anyone who’s worked in a restaurant for the past year has really been the COVID police, especially with the masks. So the more we can keep saying it’s a city mandate or CDC recommendation, it makes it so much easier for all of us.”
A partner at Crown Shy in the Financial District, Jeff Katz, says it "is the right thing to do. Until it’s government-mandated, you’re dealing with guests who may not agree with you. When you fall back to the city or state rules, it’s not really a choice. Obviously, we operate within the context of the law.” In the event guests are unwilling to show vaccination certificates, Katz says “they’re not coming in.”
The onset of Delta variant fast spreading, coupled with cooler weather, exhausts restaurateurs, even as they have adopted a vaccine policy that has been well received. Restaurant owners now long for a normal existence where all they have to worry about is just the everyday restaurant woes. Both the staff and the owners are experiencing a great deal of emotional exhaustion. There is a bright ray of light brought by vaccination, and most people welcome this vaccination mandate with open arms.