New York’s restaurant industry embraces vaccination mandates despite risks – Trade Observer

It was after an employee returned a second vaccine card, with different dates and a different brand of vaccine, that George Constantinou realized he had found a fake. Well, that and the employee’s confession.

“[The first card] was just a bad photocopy job,” Constantinou, a restaurant owner from Brooklyn, told Commercial Observer. “Then when we asked him to bring it for us to inspect, he said he didn’t have it anymore – [that] he lost it. So he brought a new card and it had totally different dates, I think it was even a different vaccine… We couldn’t have him on the team [after that].”

Constantinou, whose portfolio includes Bogota Latin Bistro, Miti Miti Modern Mexican and Medusa Greek Tavern, all in Park Slope, is one of many New York restaurateurs facing the city’s new vaccine requirements. Employees must be vaccinated to work in indoor spaces such as restaurants, concert halls and gymnasiums. And customers of these places must be vaccinated to enter.

The requirements follow perhaps the toughest time in living memory for the New York restaurant industry. Restaurants, bars and nightlife venues were devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions that followed, such as limit indoor dining capacity and restaurant opening hours to stem a pandemic responsible for more than half a million deaths.

With the exception of one instance of violence at one location at Italian restaurant Carmine, the restaurant industry has had a relatively smooth start to enforcing vaccine requirements, which started August 17 but had only been enforced by the city last week, starting September 13.

The city had also not issued restaurant fines as of Wednesday — although in the first week of the program, city inspectors issued 4,096 warnings at the 11,636 restaurants they inspected from Sept. 13 through Thursday, according to city spokesman Mitch. Schwartz.

But what turned heads – and camera phones – was the violent altercation at the Carmines of the Upper West Side. A group of out-of-state restaurateurs attacked the restaurant hostess on September 16, allegedly because she asked them to see proof of vaccinations. The three tourists, however, dispute this claim, saying that the hostess used a racial slur before throwing himself on the three women. (from Carmine dispute this assertion.)

While it’s unclear what happened at Carmine that day, the fear of customers getting upset, or even physically, with servers is something New York restaurant owners and employees dread. .

“Our staff is really put in a difficult position and I don’t know if they’re protected or safe in this,” Sarina Prabasi, co-founder of Buunni Coffee, which has three locations in Manhattan, told CO. “It’s really tough on our staff because I think everyone recognizes that service work and food and beverage work are some of the toughest jobs in general, and then you have to be on the front line. public health policy.

Prabasi said customers yelled at his staff, putting workers in the awkward position of telling a customer they weren’t always right. While the vast majority of his cafe’s clientele supported the vaccine demand, even going so far as to thank the staff for enforcing the rules, Prabasi said what stuck in his mind most was this are bad experiences.

She also felt that while restaurants and other covered establishments had a month to begin implementing the policy before it was enforced, the ever-changing city and state guidelines were still weighing on her mind, especially when it comes to wearing a mask.

“Our mask policy goes beyond the city’s policy that we need masks regardless of your vaccination status. We had to do this because we are trying to keep everyone safe,” Prabasi said. “I think, overall, the messages were very mixed… I understand why there was such a focus on vaccination and creating a key to New York. But what about masks?

Both Prabasi and Constantinou said they had problems with unvaccinated employees. Constantinou had to lay off three of its 100 employees who had not received their first shot by the September 13 effective date. Prabasi also had to let people go. So does Ed Raven, owner of Greenpoint Beer & Ale Co. and Brouwerij Lane watering hole, both in Greenpoint.

“All staff are now fully vaccinated,” Raven told the CO. “We only had one incident with a cook. He felt it was being forced on him… [He resigned in an email, saying] that his body was a sanctuary and he could do with it whatever he wanted.

Although it was somewhat difficult to replace the cook, Raven said her brewery is finally getting back to normal, or pandemic normal, pace. He hopes more New Yorkers will get vaccinated so his businesses can return to pre-COVID procedures.

“I just wish everyone would get vaccinated so we can get back to a semi-normal business plan,” Raven said. “It’s just ridiculous that we have to do all this because there are people who don’t want to get vaccinated. The irony is that during the pandemic, everyone was asking for vaccination, and now that we have it, people don’t want it. It’s just crazy.

Raven and his staff check customers’ vaccination cards and IDs, then give everyone a wristband to find out who’s been checked, he said. He had not yet been visited by a city inspector, although Constantinou and Prabasi both told the CO that the inspectors had stopped by their establishments.

City inspectors are responsible for ensuring that each restaurant has signage, provided by the city, that informs customers of the new policy and that restaurant staff ask for vaccination cards, Schwartz said. The inspectors come from a mix of 13 different city agencies, including the New York City Department of Health, one of whose staff traveled to Constantinou.

Businesses can incur a maximum of $5,000 per non-compliance penalty. The first violation of the policy results in a warning, a $1,000 fine for the second, a $2,000 fine for the third and fourth, and any subsequent violations result in a $5,000 fine, Schwartz told CO.

And Andrew Rigie, head of the New York City Hospitality Alliance trade group, wants the city to focus on education and training before imposing fines as a last resort.

“We’ve been on the front lines of all the different and ever-changing regulations with so much stress and economic disaster,” Rigie told CO. “This places a huge burden on the industry, but we are working hard and working together to overcome this because we know we have to keep our customers [and] our employees healthy and safe.

While Rigie says some smaller restaurants have offered more limited indoor seating, he hadn’t heard of the requirements imposing industry-wide changes, like restaurants not reopening or the widespread harassment of restaurant staff.

Rigie said his organization is working with the city to encourage restaurant workers and customers to get vaccinated through pop-up vaccination locations, and the hotel alliance has held online training sessions to educate restaurant owners about the requirements. .

He thought the requirement had certainly helped the city see high vaccination rates — nearly 80% of Manhattan residents had as of Thursday received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and nearly 70% of residents of New York had, according to city data.

“Restaurants are the anchors of communities,” Rigie said. “These are community gathering spaces… and people respect them. So it’s a good way to spread the word and further support the communities they serve.

Celia Young can be contacted at [email protected].

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Cecil N. Messick