As the U.S. is hit by a fourth wave of COVID-19 thanks to the delta variant, many cities and states are again rolling out restrictions to prevent further spread of the virus. This time around, select cities and certain restaurants are putting proof of vaccination mandates in place for customers to dine indoors.
Starting in September, New York City restaurant patrons and workers will have to show proof of at least one vaccine dose to dine indoors and/or to work at a restaurant, respectively. Similar measures have been passed in San Francisco — where starting Aug. 20 all businesses that serve food or drink must obtain proof of vaccination from their patrons and employees to dine indoors — and in New Orleans, where skyrocketing COVID cases began requiring proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID test to enter restaurants, bars, gyms, concert venues, large outdoor or indoor gatherings and sports stadiums starting Aug. 16. Los Angeles is also looking to pass vaccination proof mandates for its hospitality industry, though that not happened yet.
With vaccination requirements growing, how can operators safely and easily comply with the current law, while making it easier on their employees and patrons? Christine Tenley, an attorney at McGlinchey Stafford law firm based in New Orleans, provided some advice.
Update your signage ASAP
Communication with your patrons is essential, Tenley said, whether you’re updating proof of vaccination requirements on your own or in response to a local ordinance.
“No shoes, no shirt, no proof of vaccine, no service,” she said. “They have the right to refuse service to anyone.”
Tenley suggested spelling out your restaurant’s vaccination policy clearly inside and outside the business.
Implement employee training to identify vaccination proof
In New York City, residents can download their vaccine passport via the Excelsior app, but not all cities have this option. Many patrons might opt to take a snapshot of their vaccination card or download the newly available feature on OpenTable that lets them confirm their vaccination status before booking a restaurant reservation. Employees should undergo new training to identify all forms of vaccination proof, Tenley suggested.
“You should designate who the employees are going to be that have this responsibility and train them to effectively review these cards,” she said.
Your employees should know how to spot a fake vaccination card
Not surprisingly, citizens are trying to usurp authorities by creating fake vaccination ID cards. Employees should be on the lookout for telltale signs that a vaccine card is fraudulent, including a birthdate missing, misspellings and information missing, like vaccine lot numbers or administration dates.
Ask customers for their vaccine card and ID
Tenley also suggests that restaurants ask for patrons to show their license or other approved form of ID in addition to vaccination proof to cut down on fraud. This is already part of the newly passed law in New York City, but it should be common sense for all restaurants to ask for ID along with vaccination proof to make sure the names on both match.
Know how to deal with belligerent patrons
While there will inevitably be pushback from patrons that do not have or do not want to show proof of vaccination to dine indoors, Tenley said that operators should remember that the law is on their side.
“It's similar to having to show your ID when you want to order an alcoholic beverage,” she said. “Businesses now legally now have that obligation, whereas before they had the right to require it as a private business.”
Businesses that blatantly flout the rules are in danger of citation
Since it will likely be difficult to crack down on every instance of a restaurant not sufficiently checking vaccination proof, Tenley said that she believes (at least in New Orleans) that city officials won’t give businesses a hard time “as long as you are showing a good faith compliance effort" and will likely crack down on restaurants that are blatantly not following the mandates.
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