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Bar and Restaurant Workers Become ‘Vaccine Bouncers’ Amid New Mandates

On August 17, New York City introduced a policy that requires proof of vaccination for those who want to drink or dine at indoor bars and restaurants. New Orleans has a similar mandate in place and San Francisco will introduce one on August 20. Last week, Los Angeles City Council members voted in favor of vaccine requirements at indoor bars and restaurants, though details are still being determined.

How are these policies enforced?

While some venues employ dedicated security guards, others have asked existing employees to work the door as “vaccine bouncers.” It’s a difficult task amid staff shortages and the politicization of vaccines, and one that workers say requires full support of managers and owners.

“There will be a security guard out front checking all guests,” Los Angeles’ Osteria La Buca restaurant posted on Instagram on July 30. “Our priority has always been the protection of our staff and guests. We haven’t fought this hard, for this long, to let it go awry now.”

Some bars and restaurants require proof of vaccine to enter their bars or restaurants, regardless of city or state decrees.

At the Ridgewood, NJ location of It’s Greek to Me, owner and operator Paul Vagianos says he’s empowered all of his staff to check for vaccines before seating patrons indoors. Those who can’t prove they’ve been vaccinated can still sit outside, and they can briefly enter the restaurant—wearing a mask—if they need to use the restroom, but seating options stop at the door for the unvaccinated.

The decision is “not a political statement,” Vagianos says. “This is simply an attempt to make this as safe as possible for everyone and to accommodate everyone.”

Vagianos also says his staff is fully vaccinated and completely on board with their role in implementing the policy.

Denver Osteria Marco
Denver’s Osteria Marco plans to require guests to sign a health declaration / Credit Joni Schrantz

City Winery has eight locations around the U.S., including in Nashville and Atlanta. The company requires that guests provide proof of vaccination to enter any of its establishments.

“Vaccine card and ID checks are handled by the concierge if attending a concert, or host if you’re coming in to dine,” says Melissa Krinsky, the brand’s marketing manager.

Abby Hoffman, the assistant general manager of Denver’s Osteria Marco, is excited about the restaurant group’s imminent policy around vaccination requirements. Instead of asking patrons to show their vaccine cards, Osteria Marco requires guests to sign a health declaration stating that they’ve been vaccinated.

This policy will go into effect on September 30, and Hoffman will lead the charge. A large part of her day is spent welcoming guests into the restaurant, she says.

“I am always happy to speak with anyone who is uncomfortable with the health declaration,” she says. “For anyone who is uncomfortable with our vaccination policies, we will always offer to serve them to-go meals that they can enjoy in the safety of their home.”

“For anyone who is uncomfortable with our vaccination policies, we will always offer to serve them to-go meals that they can enjoy in the safety of their home.” —Abby Hoffman, Osteria Marco

New Orleans restaurant Lengua Madre has tasked hostess Fabeyana Jackson with greeting customers and asking for proof of the vaccine.

“Thus far, I’ve only had to turn away one reservation at the door for not having proof of vaccination,” Jackson says. “Apologetically, I just told them that unfortunately without proof of vaccination, they couldn’t dine with us.” Jackson says the guests weren’t irate and did not question the policy.

Some would-be diners who first learn of Lengua Madre’s policy over the phone when trying to make a reservation have expressed frustration, though. “That’s a shame,” Jackson says she’s heard once or twice in response to her relaying the restaurant’s policy.

Vaccine mandate Los Angeles
An employee checks a vaccine card for proof of Covid-19 vaccination at Langer’s Deli in Los Angeles, California on August 7, 2021 / Photo by Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty

Unfortunately, workers at bars and restaurants nationwide have reported backlash to vaccine requirements. These range from angry and disgruntled comments on social media pages of businesses; to death threats.

“People were literally wishing death upon our family, our staff, everyone we knew,” Salt Lake City restaurant owner Mark Alston told the Associated Press earlier this month. He’d asked guests to provide proof of vaccination when the restaurant reopened in May.

Royce Oliveira, co-owner of Denver’s To the Wind Bistro, says that a nearby bar received angry responses when it began to require proof of vaccination to entry. In April, To the Wind started hosting a weekly Vaccination Night exclusively for guests who could provide proof of vaccination, but it doesn’t currently plan to implement additional programming for vaccinated diners.

Fear of backlash isn’t the reason why the restaurant won’t require vaccines to enter, though, Oliveira says.

“It’s a lot more work trying to check people’s cards,” he says, “and we’re a pretty tight staff right now.”

To provide proof of vaccination, guests can download vaccine passports, use apps like the Excelsior Pass (for New York residents), or, in some states, access their digital vaccine records through a free service, MyIR Mobile.