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Union Square Hospitality diners and workers must be vaccinated by September

Danny Meyer, CEO of the multi-concept group, announced Thursday that everyone inside USHG’s New York City and Washington, D.C., full-service restaurants must present proof of receiving a full round of COVID inoculations.
Union Square Cafe
Photograph: Shutterstock

Starting in September, anyone wanting to dine inside a Union Square Hospitality Group restaurant must present proof of being fully vaccinated against COVID. All restaurant employees must be vaccinated as well.

That’s according to USHG CEO Danny Meyer, who made the announcement Thursday morning on CNBC.

“This is the most logical thing I’ve ever seen,” Meyer said. “I’m not a scientist, but I know how to read data. And, from what I see, this is a crisis of people who’ve not been vaccinated.”

The new policy takes effect Sept. 7 at all USHG full-service concepts in New York City and Washington, D.C. To dine inside a USHG restaurant after that date, customers must show a COVID-19 vaccine card, a New York State Excelsior Pass, another state-provided vaccine pass or a photo of the diner’s vaccination card, the multi-concept operator posted on its website.

Meyer founded Shake Shack and chairs its board of directors, but he said the vaccine directive does not apply to the fast-casual burger chain.

“Shake Shack will make the appropriate decision for them at the appropriate time,” he said. “We’re making this decision today for the restaurants we own and control.”

Early this week, the 500-member SF Bar Owner Alliance said anyone seeking to be served inside its San Francisco establishments must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test. The group cited a worrisome uptick in coronavirus cases among fully vaccinated staff members for the decision.

On Wednesday, St. Louis-based restaurant group Bengelina Hospitality Group, which runs five restaurants, said it would not accept indoor reservations for unvaccinated diners. Those who've not been vaccinated can dine outdoors, the group said via Instagram post. 

Meyer noted that the “vast majority” of USHG employees are vaccinated. Individual restaurants in the group have been bringing mini-vaccine clinics into the establishments to make the shots available to workers.

“We’ve got an amazing responsibility to keep our staff members and our guests safe,” Meyer said. “I actually believe this is going to make even more people want to dine with us.”

Advocacy group NYC Hospitality Alliance on Thursday came out in favor of restaurants requiring vaccinations, but noted the difficulties of enforcement.

“Restaurants can’t afford another wave of pandemic-related business restrictions, especially when the industry faces such a long road to full recovery, Executive Director Andrew Rigie said in a statement. "We support restaurants and bars that are enforcing vaccine requirements to protect the safety of their workers and customers, and also appreciate that the decision has become more complicated for other businesses to follow.”

Meyer said he did not want to go back to the days of dining room shutdowns and operating at 25% capacity.

“That’s so yesterday,” he said. “We know the vaccine works … The restaurant industry, from the very beginning has stepped up. They stepped up before we had a vaccination. We have a responsibility in our industry, which is the largest aggregate employer of any industry in the country, to show America why we have always been dedicated to hygiene.”

In February, the Meyer-led group Enlightened Hospitality Investments took part in a $100 million funding round for CLEAR, a secure identity company that offers an app-based “Health Pass” that can display personal vaccination information.  

This story has been updated with information from Bengelina Hospitality Group and a comment from the NYC Hospitality Alliance.


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