Famed restaurateur Danny Meyer announced today that all employees and indoor patrons at his full-service restaurants will be required to show proof of vaccination beginning Sept. 7. In DC, the policy will apply to Navy Yard Italian restaurant Maialino Mare and rooftop bar Anchovy Social, but not to Meyer’s fast-casual chain Shake Shack—at least for now. Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group also operates more than a dozen high-profile restaurants in New York, including Gramercy Tavern, the Modern, and Union Square Cafe.
“We feel like we’ve got an amazing responsibility to keep our staff members and our guests safe, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Meyer said in an interview with CNBC.
To show proof of vaccination, customers can bring their physical vaccination card, a photo of the card, or a state-provided vaccine pass (like the New York State Excelsior Pass). Despite potential boycott threats, Meyer makes the case that the vaccine requirement will actually help business.
“The vast majority of people who dine out, especially indoors, don’t want to see us go back to how things were,” Meyer says, citing indoor dining bans and limited capacity restrictions. “We know right now that the vaccine works, and it’s time to make sure that this economy continues to move forward. There’s no going back.”
Meyer says the “vast majority” of his employees are already vaccinated, and he’s offered vaccinations inside his restaurants. Employees will have 45 days to make the choice. Meyer says if there was one thing that gave him pause about the policy, it’s that his restaurants, like many, are already short-staffed. “I’m making a bet that there’s a huge number of employees who would rather come into a workforce when they know that they will be completely safe,” Meyer says. Asked if he was afraid of getting sued by anti-vax staff, Meyers said, “if it’s the case, that would be sad.”
The policy will undoubtedly be easier to implement at upscale restaurants rather than fast-casual ones where people are constantly coming and going. As for his burger chain, Meyer says, “Shake Shack will make the appropriate decision for them at the appropriate time.”
As far as we know, Meyer’s restaurants are the only ones in the District to require proof of vaccination from customers. The Post recently highlighted Pho, Banh Mi and Grill, a Vietnamese restaurant in Fairfax that’s been requiring vaccination cards for indoor seating. Owner Francis Do estimated he’d lost 25 to 30 percent of business because of the policy, especially given that many people just didn’t have their vaccine cards or photos of them on hand. Still, Do said he wished other businesses would join him.
Meyer has the advantage of already being a much-watched industry trendsetter. He was a leader in the “hospitality included” movement—but later reinstated gratuity after the no-tipping plan met with uneven results—and was among the first big-name restaurateurs to push pause on all of his restaurants at the very beginning of the Covid pandemic. To other business owners, Meyer offers a message: “Every business has to make its own decisions, and we’re proud of the one that we’re making right now… This is the most logical thing I’ve ever seen.”