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Last updated: August 15, 2021

Just weeks after the SF Bar Owner Alliance decided to require proof of COVID vaccination at indoor venues, Mayor London N. Breed is now joining the call. 

As of Friday, August 20, all patrons and employees entering indoor businesses and events will be asked to show proof of COVID vaccination. The health order will apply to all restaurants, bars, clubs, gyms and large indoor events. After SF, it is expected that other counties should follow suit.

The issue of proof of vaccination has ignited another hot topic in the COVID-19 vaccine debate – when it comes to restaurants, who is responsible for employees and guests’ safety?

Table of Contents

Is it Legal to Require Covid Vaccination at Your Restaurant?

The short answer is YES. In California it is legal to require that employees and guests be vaccinated, but other states have limited this possibility.

The Alliance’s recommendation rings in tune with recent ‘vax-or-test’ requirements for federal employees. California schools and universities also have similar policies in place, as do many major-tech companies. They all require staff and students to show proof of being fully vaccinated (or attest to it) before setting foot on premises. 

Although more than 62% of those aged 12+ in California are fully vaccinated, variants continue to mutate and infection numbers are on the rise again. This is a sobering reminder that the pandemic is not over.

Most restaurants and bars simply cannot survive a second shutdown and are witnessing increased staff and family members falling ill. The solution? The foodservice community seems to think that demanding vaccinations will make more people comply and close the gap towards higher vaccination rates.

Should You Require Vaccine Proof at Your Restaurant (and How to Do it)?

The decision whether to require employees and guests to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination is up to each restaurant operator. It will depend on the belief system in each community and how hard it is to hire under the current labor crisis

  • What is vaccination proof?  A complete CDC-issued vaccination card (physical or digital), proof of recovery or a less than 72hr negative Covid-19 test. 
  • What about outdoors? After such a devastating year, restaurants are reluctant to turn customers away. Outdoor ventilated seating will still be an option for unvaccinated guests or those unable to provide proof. 
  • How can this be enforced? California is one of the few states that has set up a Digital Covid-19 Vaccine Record. Although this is only relevant for residents and not tourists, it’s a start. Train your staff about what vaccination proof looks like (complete cards or QR codes) and decide on a clear policy regarding how you deal with people who left their cards ‘at home’ or show an invalid or suspect document. As always, clear signage will eliminate much of the friction. 

4 Tips for Helping Customers Feel Safe

Here are 4 tips to help you do all you can to ensure customers feel safe at your restaurant: Contactless, Cleanliness, Communication and Choice. 

REMEMBER: The CDC is again recommending everyone wear a mask indoors while not actively eating, even if you’re vaccinated. 

  1. Contactless – This article covers everything contactless from QR waiting lists to QR wifi codes, menus and payments. 
  2. Cleanliness – Cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation are critical at a restaurant on any day, even more so during a pandemic. Train (and re-train) your staff on proper social distancing, how and when to clean seating and service areas, and even how to wear a mask.
  3. Communication – Make sure your customers witness, read and are told about what you do to keep them safe. 
  4. Choice – Choice can diffuse almost any difficult situation. If you can offer outdoor seating or take-away, let the customer decide. 

2 Tips for Helping Employees Feel Safe

Your restaurant’s greatest asset are its employees and making them feel safe is paramount to retention during the current labor crisis. So what more can restaurant operators do?

  • Help employees get vaccinated – Talk to that portion of your staff that hasn’t been vaccinated yet and try to understand why. Many of them might just need help with transportation, making an appointment or a few hours off work to actually get the jab. Feel free to encourage but be careful not to coax. Unless you decide on an all-or-nothing policy, consider the options for weekly testing and openly discuss who will pay for it and why.
  • Fight for them – The SF Bars Owner’s Association cites the health of employees and their families as the main concern . When you uphold the screening of guests, even by apologetically turning unvaccinated patrons away, your employees will see you are putting staff first for the greater good, not just the bottom line.

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