Danny Meyer revealed Thursday morning that all Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants will require proof of COVID vaccination for indoor diners.
Meyer shared the news on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.” The company is also mandating employees and new hires be vaccinated. Meyer said during the interview that most workers are vaccinated after the company offered eight hours of pay per vaccine dose. Employees will have 45 days to decide whether to get the vaccine or leave the company.
USHG operates nearly 20 concepts across New York City and Washington D.C., including Anchovy Social, Blue Smoke, Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Café, and Marta.
“This is the most logical thing I’ve ever seen,” Meyer told CNBC. “I’m not a scientist, but I know how to read data and what I see is that this is a crisis of people who have not been vaccinated, and I feel strong responsibility, on our part as business leaders, to take care of our team and our guests, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Due to the ongoing labor shortage, Meyer said USHG has been short-staffed, so creating a potential barrier to hiring did give leadership pause. However, the industry veteran said he’s making a bet that a large number of workers would rather enter a workforce knowing they will be completely safe.
“The restaurant industry from the very beginning has stepped up,” Meyer said. “They’ve stepped up before we had vaccinations. They stepped up in very dangerous situations all last year serving people indoors, outdoors, etc. throughout the country. And I think we have a responsibility within 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.”
Meyer’s announcement follows the CDC’s recent guidance that fully vaccinated people should wear masks indoors in areas with higher COVID transmission rates. That covers about two-thirds of U.S. counties, according to CNN. Just two months ago, the organization said fully vaccinated individuals could return to normal activities without wearing masks.
COVID cases have spiked in recent weeks due to the growing spread of the Delta variant. On June 30, the U.S. reported 17,251 new cases, but on Tuesday, there were 80,701 new cases—that’s a spike of more than 365 percent. As of Wednesday morning, 57.1 percent of U.S. citizens have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 49.3 percent are fully vaccinated. A source also told CNN that vaccination rates are lower than expected and that transmission is more serious in areas where vaccination rates are below 40 percent.
As cases spike, more companies are mandating vaccinations, including major brands like Facebook and Google. As for the food and beverage industry, the San Francisco Bar Owner Alliance, which represents 500 bars, announced that it’s requiring proof of vaccination or a 72-hour negative COVID test before entry. The policy is voluntary, but SF Bar Owner Alliance President Ben Bleiman said 85 percent of bar owners are in favor of vaccine mandates, according to a survey.
Los Angeles County, Kansas City, Missouri, and the entire state of Nevada are among areas that have reimposed mask mandates.
Meyer said he believes the vaccination requirements will make more consumers want to dine at USHG’s restaurants.
“We feel like we have an amazing responsibility to keep our staff members and our guests safe, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Meyer said. “ … We know that the vaccine works and it’s time to make sure that this economy continues to move forward. There’s just no going back.”