Restaurateurs were a bit uneasy about having to determine whether their customers had been vaccinated against COVID-19, but now more are wishing all cities would take a page from places like New York, New Orleans and San Francisco, which issued vaccine mandates for people who want to dine in, as the Delta variant wreaks havoc around much of the country.
That makes restaurants the new COVID enforcers, but they already were enforcing drinking-age measures. The National Restaurant Association offers a training module to help restaurant employees handle situations where customers refuse to wear masks.
“Checking someone’s vaccination status doesn’t have to be any different than checking for ID. What is missing is an easy and reliable way to authenticate what a person might show when they are asked for it. The paper card we are given in the U.S. is virtually useless because it can be easily counterfeited,” Bob Vergidis, founder and chief visionary officer at pointofsale.cloud, told The Food Institute.
“The process is made worse with people taking a picture of their vaccination card to carry around on their cell phones and then using that home-made digital version as proof.”
But what’s the alternative?
“The worst thing for the hospitality industry would be for us to have to go back to limited occupancy, or being shut down again,” Erin Bellard, who owns e’s Bar in Manhattan, told CNN Business (Aug. 4). “So as hard as the vaccine mandate may be on us, it is still better than that, which is why ultimately, I think this is the way to go.”
Even Yelp! has gotten in on the debate, noting which businesses are requiring proof of vaccine.
“We’re seeing an increasing number of businesses implement new safety measures to protect their employees and communities, Yelp! executive Noorie Malik said in a press release. “To help consumers understand how a business is currently operating as pandemic guidelines continue to evolve, today, Yelp is announcing two new, free attributes – ‘Proof of vaccination required’ and ‘All staff fully vaccinated.’”
The problem is vaccination has become a political issue – something that never should have happened, pointofsale.cloud’s Vergidis noted.
THE LABOR ANGLE
“Just asking to see someone’s vaccination card unless done under the cover of a bigger authority automatically puts restaurants owners in a political camp. This is unfortunate because it hurts business,” Vergidis said, adding that bar and restaurant owners have to be pragmatic.
He added, however, that there may be a positive side to the requirement: “Restaurants and bars that enforce vaccination status for their guests might also find themselves on the positive side of the ledger when it comes to attracting and keeping staff. In today’s labor shortage, it might be the win-win restaurants are looking for.”
Where local governments are hanging back, some businesses are taking the lead.
“After a few positive COVID cases last week we have decided that the health and safety of our staff and guests must be prioritized. Until you are vaccinated please do not enter our establishment,” Atlanta eatery Argosy said in an Instagram post. “If you are fully vaccinated, welcome!”
The post then offers a resource for hunting down a vaccine and ends with the hashtags: “#novaxnoservice #getvaxxed.”
THE TREND’S DETRACTORS
Not everyone is happy with the trend.
“People scream at us through the phone. They say racist things. It’s all about the vaccines,” James Lim, owner of the Watson’s Counter near Seattle told The Wall Street Journal (Aug. 15).
Slightly more than half of the eligible U.S. population – 61% of those over 18 – have been fully vaccinated against COVID, and 71% have received at least one shot. Only four states – California, New York, Hawaii and Oregon – are facilitating efforts to create digital vaccination status applications for those who can prove they have taken their jabs, while 20 states – all in the hands of Republican governors – have blocked proof-of-vaccination requirements, Ballotpedia reported (as of Aug. 13).
In Texas, lawmakers adopted a measure prohibiting businesses from requiring customers to show proof of vaccine. The Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission has threatened to yank the liquor license of any establishment violating the measure.
Kai Wong, who manages the New York Malaysian restaurant Kopitiam, has a plan for dealing with unvaccinated customers. He said he will suggest they order outside and then take their orders home.
“The idea of a restaurant is a place for someone to come and have an experience and be safe … and to be able to celebrate with each other,” San Francisco restaurateur Seth Stowaway told Food & Wine (Aug. 5). “And in my mind, that means making sure people know that they’re protected.”