Danny Meyer Announced a Vaccine Mandate at His Restaurants — Will Other Restaurateurs Do the Same?

The full dining room at Gramercy Tavern. Photo: RJ Mickelson

So far, the vast majority of restaurants have not required diners to show proof they’ve been vaccinated, but that may finally be changing. Somebody might want to see your Excelsior Pass after all!

This morning, Danny Meyer announced a vaccine mandate for all of his restaurants: All Union Square Hospitality Group employees and all indoor diners will have to show proof of vaccination. “We feel like we’ve got an amazing responsibility to keep our staff members and our guests safe,” Meyer told CNBC’s Squawk Box. “And that’s what we’re going to do.” The policy goes into effect on September 7 — so if you haven’t been jabbed but you do have a Gramercy Tavern reservation for the fall, you’ve got time! — at which point, the company’s website explains, staff will start asking to see “either your physical COVID-19 vaccine card, your New York State Excelsior Pass, your relevant state-provided vaccine pass, or a photo of your vaccination card.”

Meyer is not the only restaurant owner to make the call. Frenchette, Estela and Altro Paradiso, Dame, Llama Inn, and Joseph Leonard, among others, are all now requiring vaxx proof to eat inside, and they’re not alone. It remains to be seen whether this becomes the industry default — you go to a restaurant, you show proof of vaxx — but norms do seem to be shifting. And Meyer, between his enormously visible restaurants and his new gig as chair of the New York Economic Development Corporation, probably has as much industry sway as anyone, even if — it’s worth noting — the policy does not (yet) apply to Shake Shack.

The renewed interest in proof of vaccination is due in part, of course, to case rates that are once again on the rise in New York thanks to the Delta variant; the vaccines, while extremely effective at preventing severe illness or death, may not help curb transmission as much as we’d thought; and while shots are now widely available, the rate of vaccinations has slowed to alarming levels.

From Meyer’s perspective, at least, it’s not just a public-health decision but a business one. “We know that the vaccine works,” he said. “And it’s time to make sure that this economy continues to move forward.” Ultimately, of course, each business owner will have to decide for her or himself what makes the most sense. While Meyer has laid out a rational plan based on available science, other restaurateurs have taken alternate approaches — for example, Tony Roman, who has recently been in the news after posting a sign at his Huntington Beach, California, restaurant that “proof of being unvaccinated” is required for entry.

“This is not about whether I’m pro-vaccine or not. I’m pro-freedom, anti-tyranny,” the restaurateur told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. In keeping with this anti-tyrannical spirit, Roman currently does not allow customers to wear masks inside his restaurant.

Will Restaurants Start Requiring Vaccines Now?