Beginning this week, New Yorkers will have to show proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, bars, gyms and other indoor facilities, as the city’s vaccine mandate begins in earnest. Officials say the policy, which is loosely in place since August 16 but will be enforced by city inspectors from September 13, is a step forward in the ongoing battle to curb the delta variant.
But for businesses operating in neighborhoods with low vaccination rates, the mandate raises a complex question: What’s the point of serving your community when half of it can’t be eaten inside your restaurant?
Across the city, more than 5.5 million New Yorkers, about 67 percent of the city’s population, have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to latest city data. Yet this number varies by city—from some 78 percent in Manhattan to 60 percent in Brooklyn and the Bronx—and even more in neighborhoods. In some parts of Chelsea, about 90 percent of residents are partially vaccinated. In Borough Park and Hunts Point, the city’s two least vaccinated neighborhoods, that number drops to 45 and 53 percent, respectively.
Adam Keita, co-owner of the daytime coffee shop Daughter, is tackling that disparity last month from East Crown Heights, where about 49 percent of residents are partially vaccinated at the time of publication. They have required customers dining inside their coffee shop to show proof of vaccination since mid-August, when the mandate went into effect without enforcement. After asking his clients if they had been vaccinated “everything changed,” he says.
“Business was very slow before,” Keita says. “Mostly it was customers coming and asking questions. They weren’t sure what exactly they were allowed to do. “
Ahead of the mandate this week, his employees debated how to engage with customers about the need for vaccinations. Instead of asking whether anyone has been vaccinated upon entry, he states that he plans to formulate the question of whether someone wants to stay or leave his order, given that the current city Proof of vaccination is not required under the U.S. guidelines. “We try to make it a non-judicial zone,” he says. “It’s still about finding ways to serve the community.”
Others fear they are turning their backs on customers, some of whom haven’t been vaccinated and still weigh whether to get vaccinated — even in neighborhoods like Jackson Heights, where about 94 percent Residents have been partially vaccinated. Amy Hernandez, co-owner of Mariscos El Submarino, says she’s waiting until the last minute to start checking her customers’ vaccination status. “We were waiting and hoping that wouldn’t happen,” she says.
Hernandez opened a restaurant specializing in ceviches and aguachiles with her husband, Alonso Guzmán, last June. The business was slow to start, but the couple has started hit their feet In her second year, she says. Now Hernandez worries that the vaccine mandate could mean losing customers. “To know that we’re just picking up, and we’re not sure what’s going to happen… we’re worrying,” she says.
The order to make the vaccine in the city started only last month, but the implementation of this program has started from this week itself. Starting September 13, inspectors from various city agencies — including the parks department, transportation department, fire department, sheriff’s office, and nine others — will circle restaurants and other indoor spaces, checking that employees are asking customers for proof of vaccinations. And making sure businesses have signs explaining vaccine mandates on display.
Restaurants that violate the order after September 13 can be fined at least $1,000 for the first offense, at least $2,000 for the second offense and at least $5,000 for the third offense. In a press conference on Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the focus of the program as soon as possible would be on safety, not on imposing fines on restaurant operators. “We want restaurants and all other businesses to be successful,” de Blasio said. “Nobody is starting this with the intention of imposing fines… we just want people to be safe.”
Despite the measured approach to enforcement, a vocal minority of restaurants have emerged to oppose the program, with some owners vowing to defy the policy even after 13 September. In Bay Ridge, where an estimated 70 percent of residents have received at least one dose. Abdul Allenani, co-owner of the bustling Palestinian restaurant Ayat, says he plans to display a sign about the mandate, but will not ask his customers for proof of vaccination. Simply because he doesn’t have time.
“It’s adding to labor during this unsafe time,” Allenani says. “I have to hire someone to check for vaccines at the door.” He says it would be cheaper to pay a city fine than to bring in an extra employee to the restaurant.
Other restaurant and bar owners have taken to social media to protest the mandate, organize public demonstrations, and fundraise campaigns to aid the city’s fines. “We do not discriminate against any customer on the basis of gender, sex, race, creed, age, immunization or unvaccinated, all customers who wish to be protected are welcome at our establishment,” a Post Reads circulating on social media. In another, the owner Mix Vaccine mandate for “isolation”.
“It’s not a word I would use personally,” Keita says, citing concerns about equating the city’s vaccine mandate to the country’s history of racial segregation. Still, he understands the frustration of city and state governments being tasked with enforcing coronavirus guidelines once again. “It feels like an unfair act,” he says. “The government has turned all these small businesses into police officers.”
Hernandez echoed those concerns from Jackson Heights. “We will ask [proof of vaccination]But it’s not something we want to do,” she says. “There are people who are still figuring out how to feel about vaccines,” including many of her clients.
All of the restaurants interviewed for this article have been vaccinated, and many owners say the mandate is working as intended, with some customers asking employees about their experiences receiving the vaccine and even That inspired himself to get vaccinated. In Bensonhurst, Patrick Lin, co-owner of M Vietnamese Kitchen and M Vietnamese Bistro in Dumbo, says the mandate prompted at least two of the restaurant’s regulars to get vaccinated.
“We had some people who were a little bit annoyed,” Lynn says, “and then the next time they came in, they showed up with proof of their first dose. It’s motivating people who want to get the vaccine.” want to eat out so they can start enjoying life again.”