Both employees and guests at Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants will be asked to show proof of vaccination, beginning in September, the New York City-based multiconcept group announced Thursday.
The group, founded by Danny Meyer, is not the first to require proof of vaccinations, but the move heralds what is expected to be a landslide of vaccination mandates as COVID-case counts rise and anxiety grows that another restaurant industry shutdown may be coming.
New York had already enacted a voluntary Excelsior Pass across the state, which allowed businesses to quickly scan to verify vaccination status. USHG restaurants will accept the Excelsior Pass or guests can show their vaccination card or a photo of it to gain entry to the group’s restaurants, which include the flagship Union Square Café, Daily Provisions, Marta and Gramercy Tavern.
Pressure is growing for employers to play a role in re-sparking slowing vaccination rates. COVID rates are climbing again across the country, primarily among the unvaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier this week recommended that all Americans — even the vaccinated — wear masks indoors again in regions where the COVID Delta variant is taking hold, at least until vaccination coverage is high and community transmission is low.
But many argue that a key to motivating the vaccine reluctant will be vaccine passports for restaurants and bars, as is being done in countries like France, which will start limiting indoor dining only to those who can show proof of vaccine or a negative test, starting Aug. 1.
Some states, however, have preemptively banned or restricted vaccine mandates, including Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Montana, North Dakota, south Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and Wyoming, though some still allow private businesses to decide whether to require vaccines.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio Tweeted that Meyer is one of the most influential restaurant owners in the business, “and when he leads, others follow.”
In fact, many restaurants in New York and across the country are reportedly asking for proof of inoculation already, including Frenchette, Estela, Altro Paradiso, Dame, Llama Inn and Joseph Leonard.
Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said in a statement the group supports restaurants and bars that are enforcing vaccine requirements, but the group also “appreciates that the decision has become more complicated” for other businesses to follow.
“The Delta variant is certainly trending uneasiness throughout the five boroughs, and all options must be considered to ensure the city doesn’t jeopardize public health,” he said. “Restaurants can’t afford another wave of pandemic-related business restrictions, especially when the industry faces such a long road to full recovery.”
In San Francisco, the Bar Owner Alliance earlier this week recommended that members limit indoor drinking to the vaccinated only, or those who could show a negative COVID test within 72 hours.
The Golden Gate Restaurant Association in the city also surveyed members about vaccine mandates. Of about 230 operators responding, 58% said they are requiring staff to be fully vaccinated and 63% said they would support a vaccine requirement for customers.
But the association did not make a blanket recommendation for members to require proof of vaccines among guests, saying verification presents challenges.
“Staff members are not trained to verify vaccine statuses; restaurant spaces are often porous with numerous entrances where customers, delivery drivers and vendors are coming and going; and there are questions about the logistics of checking vaccination status and the potential for customer conflicts,” the association said in a statement.
Instead, the GGRA recommended that restaurant employees be vaccinated and that masks be worn by all indoors.
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