NYC Restaurants Fear Losing Sales from Vaccine Requirements

Mark Hamstra | 13 Aug 2021

Some restaurant operators in New York City said they expect to lose some customers — and possibly some employees — when the city begins requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to enter all restaurants, fitness centers, and entertainment venues, effective this Monday.

“Having to see a proof of vaccination for all of our customers will be very difficult,” said Eugene Slobodsky, owner of PJ Bernstein, a Jewish deli on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “Not only will it be a hassle to have staff check every customer’s vaccination card, but it will also be a nuisance to the customers.”

He said he expects that some customers will stay away either because they are unvaccinated, or because they would object to having to prove they have received a vaccine.

“Having to ask for proof of vaccination every time they come in will not be the most entertaining question to ask when they come downstairs to eat breakfast,” Slobodsky said. “In my opinion, we should keep it the same way we have been doing it in the past, as we have been trusting people that do not have the vaccine to wear a mask, and people that do have the vaccine by not requiring them to wear a mask.”

He said workers at the deli have been getting vaccinated at their own discretion.

“This new law … might be a problem, but we will have to see what happens,” Slobodsky said. “Hopefully our government will realize the issue that they are creating and will change their ideas on this new policy.”

Roland Semaan, chef-owner of Lebanese/Middle Eastern restaurant Balade in the East Village neighborhood, said he expects a “major drop in sales” from the new law.

“We always follow state and [Centers for Disease Control] guidelines, but it will be tricky to force our employees, especially, to get vaccinated,” he said. “Some of our team members said they will quit if/when we enforce this mandate, and diners said they won’t come out to dine in restaurants.”

Some restaurant operators have embraced the new standard, however, and in fact have already begun requiring customers to provide proof of vaccination, or announced plans to do so ahead of the new law taking effect.

Union Square Hospitality Group, for example, said it will begin to require all customers to show proof of vaccination beginning Sept. 7, noting in an Instagram post that its employees will also be required to be vaccinated.

“Thanks for understanding as we work to provide the most comfortable and safe experience for all,” the company stated in the post.

USHG, founded by celebrity chef Danny Meyer, CEO, operates several popular restaurants in New York, including Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern, The Modern, and others.

Fine dining destination Le Bernardin, meanwhile, said it began requiring its customers to show proof of vaccination on Aug. 4. In an Instagram post, the restaurant said it would accept as proof of vaccination a physical COVID-19 vaccine card, a New York State Excelsior Pass (a digital vaccine card), a relevant state-provided vaccine pass, or a photo of a vaccination card.

Other restaurants that have already begun requiring proof of vaccination include Fausto, an Italian restaurant in Brooklyn, and LaLou, a wine bar also located in Brooklyn. Both began requiring indoor diners to show proof of vaccination beginning Aug. 4.

“We are doing our part to keep our community safe,” LaLou said in an Instagram post. “As always, thank you for your support as we navigate this unique time.”

Comments on the Instagram sites of these restaurants have been mixed, with some users supportive and others pledging never to patronize the restaurants again.

In a recent interview with local cable news channel Spectrum News NY1, Moshe Schulman, managing partner at Ruffian, a wine bar on the Lower East Side, said his company made the decision to re-close its 300-square-foot indoor dining for safety reasons, while maintaining outdoor dining.

“Losing some seats will probably make us lose some sales … but it’s not going to get in the way of health and safety,” he said.

He added that he thinks mandating the vaccine for indoor dining and other public spaces “is the right move.”

In a poll of attendees during a recent online presentation, restaurant industry research firm Datassential found that 53 percent of respondents said having to show proof of vaccination would be detrimental to sales at restaurants that required it, compared to 47 percent who said it would help business.

The National Restaurant Association said it was concerned about burdening employees with enforcement of the new rule in New York City.

“Checking vaccination status isn’t like ID-ing a customer before serving them a drink—staff receive training on how to do that,” the NRA said in a statement. “Now, without training, our staff members are expected to check the vaccine status of every customer wanting to eat inside the establishment.”

Restaurant workers have already “suffered terrifying backlash” when enforcing mask mandates across the country, the association said, noting that the NRA created a conflict de-escalation training module to assist restaurants in enforcement of COVID rules.

“We hope that the city will take this into consideration and will work with us to ensure there is clear guidance and support for our workforce,” the NRA said.

Meanwhile Los Angeles is also moving forward with similar legislation, after the city council this week unanimously approved the creation of a law requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining.

What do you think of NYC’s indoor dining vaccination mandate? Weigh in here at the SFA’s Community Hub

Image: Mark Ferri