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How restaurant owners can prepare for new vaccine mandate rules next week

How restaurant owners can prepare for new vaccine mandate rules in the new year.

Proof of vaccination will be required starting Jan. 3 for bars, restaurants, indoor sporting events, movie theaters and other places where people eat indoors close to each other.
Proof of vaccination will be required starting Jan. 3 for bars, restaurants, indoor sporting events, movie theaters and other places where people eat indoors close to each other.Read moreMatt Rourke / AP

Starting Jan. 3, indoor eateries in Philadelphia will be required to see proof from patrons of vaccination against COVID-19.

The mandate doesn’t fully take effect immediately. Through Jan. 17, restaurants can choose to accept a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours of entry instead of proof of vaccination. But after that date, only proof of vaccination will be acceptable.

The mandate also applies to employees. A restaurant’s staff as well as young patrons aged 5 to 11 will be required to have one dose of COVID-19 vaccine by Jan. 3 and to complete the series by Feb. 3. Exemptions apply to children under age 5, people with medical reasons, and those with religious objections.

» READ MORE: What you need to know about Philly’s vaccine mandate for indoor dining

Just about every establishment that serves food and/or drink will be affected by this mandate, from cafes, bars and sports venues to movies theaters, bowling alleys, and food halls. Obviously, these new rules will add another strain on local restaurants that are already grappling with existing mandates, rising prices, and shortages of supplies and labor. And although these rules extend only to indoor dining, concerns have been raised that they will go into effect before new legislation can make permanent the outdoor dining structures that have sprung up during the pandemic.

If you’re running an eating establishment in the city, here’s how to prepare.

Clearly communicate the rules to customers

You want to make sure that your customers are fully aware of what’s expected of them. Post the rules on your front door and inside your restaurant. Update your Yelp, Facebook, and other social media listings as well as your website. You don’t want customers turned away because they weren’t aware of these new mandates.

Your staff needs to get fully vaccinated

Unlike in other cities such as New York, in Philadelphia most private businesses are not required to have employees vaccinated. But restaurants are. Many have already started this process because many owners believe that vaccinations will provide a safer environment for both their employees and customers and also demonstrate their concern for the community’s health.

“Our entire staff is already fully vaccinated,” said Hector Serrano, the owner of Boricua Restaurant in Northern Liberties. “As a small family business, we wanted to lead by example to other small businesses. Not only is it important to follow city guidelines, but most importantly to our customers.”

Olivier Desaintmartin, who owns the Caribou Café in Center City, has also been requiring vaccinations for over two weeks.

“The response was amazingly positive,” he said. “We ask for the proof of vaccination, either the CDC card or copy on their phone. Eighty percent of guests don’t mind at all. There are always some issues, of course, but minor.”

» READ MORE: Craig LaBan’s year in Philly food 2021

Your employees will need training

Your employees need to be fully aware of all the rules and how to explain the rules to customers who may not understand, be aware or just disagree. No one wants an argument or delays, which is why many restaurateurs are already beginning the training process ahead of the mandate. Organizations such as the National Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation provide training materials and resources.

“We are in the midst of training managers on the procedure to check an ID and vaccine card or Clear app (a mobile app),” said Edward Garcia, president of Queen & Rook Game Café in Queen Village. “We are a little nervous about lines to get in as we check status or pushback from guests who are uninformed but we know this is the right next step.”

Aimee Olexy, who co-owns the popular Talula’s Garden and the Love restaurants in the city, agrees.

“I focus on staff education at the Love and Talula’s Garden,” she said. “In the same way that I enjoy teaching the team about food, farms, wines, and cocktails, we now educate the team on the best practices for COVID safety.”

Consider other services and leverage technologies

The reality is that new vaccination rules will likely cut into sales this winter. Those who would normally consider coming in from the suburbs for a night on the town may be discouraged and choose to stay local. And unlike 2020 and 2021, there are few federal funding programs or new stimulus bills available.

» READ MORE: Philadelphia restaurants change course as COVID-19 cases rise

Restaurant owners must consider offering other services and products as well as leverage technologies to minimize overhead. Many restaurants are preparing to sell more gift cards, doubling down on outdoor dining, and expanding delivery options. Others are upgrading online ordering and point of sale systems to enable as much self-service as possible.

“Most of all, we want guests to come enjoy our delicious food and drinks,” said Olexy. “That’s what we really enjoy, and we are ready to enhance our health and safety practices to do so.”