“This is a crisis of people who have not been vaccinated,” he said. “And I feel a strong responsibility on our part as business leaders to take care of our team and our guests, and that’s what we’re doing.”
In an interview with The Washington Post, Meyer said diners could use documentation to prove their vaccination status including the card issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an Excelsior Pass — the government-issued one used by New Yorkers — or the Clear app. He predicted as restaurants fear going back to government-mandated closures amid surging infection rates, such systems would become common.
“I think that’s going to happen at any moment,” said Meyer, whose eateries include Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe and Maialino in New York, and Maialino Mare and Anchovy Social in Washington. “Restaurants are the biggest employer in the country — they have a huge economic impact — and we just can’t go backward.”
Meyer told CNBC that Shake Shack, which he founded and whose board he chairs, will set its own vaccine policy.
His high-profile restaurants join others that are mandating workers or in some cases, customers, provide documentation of their vaccines. In San Francisco, a group that includes hundreds of bars adopted a program where patrons wishing to drink and eat inside will have to show a vaccination card or proof of a negative coronavirus test, prompted by the surge in breakthrough cases as the virus’s delta variant spreads.
Most members of the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, which covers more than 500 establishments, have opted in, its founder told The Post. In St. Louis, the Bengelina Hospitality Group announced it would require indoor diners and employees to prove their vaccination status. Other restaurants have made vaccination a condition of employment.
Earlier this month, France adopted a system requiring patrons of all kinds of establishments, from shopping centers to restaurants to hospitals, to show a health pass.
Meyer noted that many of his 1,000 or so employees have already been vaccinated. He has previously provided other incentives, including eight hours of pay to those getting the vaccine, and management provided vaccines on-site, he said.
Meyer said making the shots mandatory did give his team pause, since nationwide restaurant worker shortages meant they were already understaffed. But he said he anticipates the requirement will help recruitment and retention, not harm it.
“I’m making a bet that there’s a huge number of employees who would actually rather come into a workplace when they know they will be completely safe,” he told CNBC.
Low vaccination rates and the spread of the more contagious variant have prompted some employers to reverse course and require vaccinations instead of merely encouraging them. The Department of Veterans Affairs will require front-line workers to be vaccinated, a policy that other health-care organizations, including the Mayo Clinic, have adopted. Government workers in California and New York City will be subject to similar rules.
President Biden is expected to announce Thursday that all federal employees get a vaccine or be subject to regular tests.
But such mandates have critics, and some lawsuits have been filed challenging them. In Florida, Republican lawmakers passed legislation barring vaccine requirements and mask mandates.
Meyer said he has been hearing from regular diners who are happy that they will be able to eat indoors, knowing they are among fellow vaccinated people. “I’m overwhelmed with the positive response from dozens and dozens of guests, who are saying, ‘This will make us feel better about dining in your restaurants.' ”
If would-be customers object, he said, they can simply go elsewhere. “Restaurants are not a public good, and there are many, many of them in every city,” he said. “I think the vast majority of people will still enjoy dining with us, but if not, there are many other restaurants they can choose over us.”
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