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San Francisco restaurants have been checking vaccination status for a month. Here’s how it’s going.

After just over a month of San Francisco requiring restaurants and bars to check patrons for vaccination status, the city is finally learning about the impact the mandate has had on the hospitality industry.

In a survey given to members of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, the majority (79%) of the 151 responses reported “very few issues” with customers’ willingness to show proof of vaccination. That’s despite 52% stating that one or more employees experienced a conflict related to verification. 

Laurie Thomas, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, told SFGATE she was “a little disappointed” to hear there are restaurants still experiencing issues, but said, “The overwhelming majority have not had very many issues, which is, I think, a testament to San Francisco and our residents, and our visitors right now.”

For restaurants that cater more to tourists than local residents, there was initial concern over how to inform patrons of the vaccination card mandate, especially for those who are traveling from areas with less restrictive COVID-19 requirements. Bob Partrite, chief operating officer of Simco Restaurants — which owns a number of dining establishments on Pier 39, including Pier Market and Fog Harbor — said that when the vaccine card checks were first announced by the city, he was very concerned about how people were going to take it and what it would mean for his restaurants.

Overall, however, Partrite reported that requiring proof of vaccination has “gone over much better than I anticipated.”

“It’s been a rough bumpy road for the last 17 months with every state, every county doing their own thing and having different mandates and different rules, regulations, and ordinances — I think the public is very confused on what they can do and what they can’t do,” Partrite said. “So the fact that the whole city of San Francisco instituted a mandate that a proof of vaccination was required, it was somewhat of a relief that we didn’t have to make that choice [of], ‘Are we going to do it? Are we not going to do it?’”

To prevent customers from being surprised by the city mandate, Partrite’s restaurants updated their websites, mentioned the requirement on its social media feeds and tagged outgoing reservation notices with notes about the vaccine card requirement. The Golden Gate Restaurant Association did its own outreach campaign as well, working with hospitality groups to make sure visitors at hotels were also warned about vaccination card requirements.

Among the survey’s other conclusions: During the timeframe of vaccination card requirements, 60% of restaurateurs reported a drop in business. That figure, however, is multilayered and difficult to tie directly to the vaccine card requirement. The decrease could have been caused by school starting and fewer people traveling.

“We did see a decline in business once around the time of the vaccination check, but … that was also the time that the delta variant was really surging in the media [coverage],” Partrite said. “So I think the decline in business has to do with, if you have a pie [chart], there’s going to be a handful of pieces in this pie: the delta variant, [the United States] going back to school, the vaccination check and no international travel. So there was four big slices, and any time one of those slices gets taken away, we’re going to see a decline.”

Thomas, who is also owner of Rose’s Cafe and Terzo in San Francisco, said that while she experienced a dip in customers and an increase in no-shows, she acknowledged that it’s not as difficult for her establishments as it is in other parts of the city.

“The people that are really hurting are the ones with restaurants in downtown, in the Moscone corridor, that haven’t even opened yet — and those that have are bleeding cash because they don’t have enough business,” Thomas said.

The survey, which was conducted between Sept. 7 and 14, represents a small cross-section of restaurant and bar owners, primarily those within the GGRA group, and was only distributed in English. 

“We just hope that we can get through this — our goal is not to have this [mandate] forever, I don’t want this to be the new reality,” Thomas said. “I’m hoping this is yet another progression towards getting back to us all being safe enough to not have to do this.”