Industry News

Restaurants roll back restrictions as more people get vaccinated, but most stop short of requiring proof

As COVID-19 vaccination rates in the US continue to rise, many restaurants are inviting fully-vaccinated customers to come in and dine mask-free. However, most eateries are taking an “honor system” approach when it comes to customers’ vaccination status in an effort to avoid pushback from guests and the possibility of running afoul of state rules against asking for proof of vaccination.

Florida and Texas are among the states that have banned so-called vaccine passports and put punishments in place for businesses that require proof of vaccination from customers. Restaurants and other businesses in Texas that require customers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 could have their licenses or operating permits revoked, according to legislation signed by Gov. Greg Abbott earlier this month, Texas Public Radio reported.

In places where it is not explicitly prohibited, federal law permits businesses to ask customers for proof of vaccination, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. Even so, many businesses choose not to ask for proof because it can create tension between customers and staff members.

In New York City, some restaurant operators have had success with requiring customers to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test, saying it allows diners to enjoy themselves without worrying about restrictions, Eater reported. However, the decision hasn’t been well received for all bars and restaurants that choose to require vaccines. After a news article about Evil Twin’s vaccine-only policy appeared online, the brewery began receiving hateful messages on social media, including some that threatened lawsuits.

The tension sparked by some restaurants’ vaccine policies calls to mind similar pushback that many eateries encountered with face mask policies earlier in the pandemic, when many restaurant employees “became mask enforcers instead of hospitality workers,” said Larry Lynch, the National Restaurant Association’s senior vice president of certification and operations.

“In our guidance we’ve certainly pushed to make sure that you ask your employees to get vaccinated and we suggest that you probably not ask customers,” he said.

“We saw the challenges with face coverings earlier in the pandemic. We were asking people to wear them and there was a lot of conflict. And so, what we’re trying to do is avoid that conflict.”

While many restaurants are aiming to avoid this conflict by not asking customers about their vaccination status, there are also many eateries working to boost the number of vaccinated people in their communities. Several restaurant chains and food and beverage companies made announcements earlier this year about free food and other incentives that would be available to customers who could show proof of vaccination. Krispy Kreme has given away 1.5 million doughnuts through a promotion that it started in March that offers a free glazed doughnut to customers who have been vaccinated, CNN reported. 

Some California McDonald's locations are going one step further, offering not just free food but the vaccines themselves. The quickserve chain is partnering with the California Department of Public Health to offer pop-up vaccine clinics at more than 70 of its restaurants in the state, ABC7 reported.

“People who receive a vaccine at McDonald's will also get a coupon for one free menu item as a thank you for doing their part," according to the website that lists the dates and location of the pop-up clinics.

This is Part II in a two-part series about how restaurants are encouraging employees and customers to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Part I looked at how restaurants can encourage and empower employees to get vaccinated.

 

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