Last fall, ahead of Philadelphia’s mask mandate, dozens of restaurants began requiring patrons and staff to show proof of vaccination to dine or work indoors. That requirement, among the most stringent in the country, became law on Jan. 3.
But on Feb. 16, just six weeks later, the city abruptly dropped the proof-of-vaccine rule, citing a steep decline in COVID-19 cases. Restaurants, whose employees were charged with checking cards from sometimes bitter customers, could go back to the way things were: Indoor masking is required if cards are not checked.
Not all restaurants will relax their no-card rules.
The Inquirer, which began tracking policies last year, has identified more than three dozen restaurants that will continue to demand proof of vaccination for indoor dining. To many restaurateurs on this list, the need to relax indoor masking is paramount; science debates aside, many hospitality workers believe that mask-wearing impedes the dining experience.
“Our businesses need people to be able mingle and interact with each other,” said Jason Evenchik, whose holdings include Vintage and The Goat in Center City. “You can’t do that with a mask on. Hopefully this will be over soon.”
Alex Tewfik, who opens his South Philadelphia restaurant Mish Mish on Friday, said he would call for vaccination cards. “We don’t want to wear masks and it’s simply the right thing to do,” he said.
The owner of Hop Sing Laundromat in Chinatown, who is known simply as Lê, said he would continue to ask for proof of vaccination — and it must be a physical card or digital app, not a cellphone photo.
» READ MORE: End of vaccine mandate draws mixed reactions
Some restaurateurs that had previously required cards, meanwhile, have chosen to follow the city guideline and have dropped the card requirement. “Obviously the safety of my team and our customers is paramount,” said Vanessa Mullen, co-owner of Campbell’s Place in Chestnut Hill, which had required proof last year. “Our preference would be that everyone dining out be vaccinated. My team has operated and will continue to do so with the utmost respect for the safety protocols, as well as each other.”
She said asking customers for their vaccination status placed her staff in a difficult position.
“We didn’t find it a burden to enforce,” said Francis Cratil Cretarola, co-owner of Le Virtù in South Philadelphia, who will keep requiring cards. “Though imperfect, it at least allowed for some due diligence in creating the safest indoor environment possible.”
Still other restaurateurs are taking a wait-and-see approach as they keep their rules on the books for now. They don’t want to disappoint patrons who applauded the vaccine mandate in January and had made reservations weeks ago, and were counting on an all-vaccinated establishment.
Justine MacNeil, who owns Fiore Fine Foods in South Philadelphia with her husband, Ed Crochet, said she needed input from her staff. “We weren’t expecting it to change so quickly so we haven’t had the chance to see their comfort level yet and that’s most important to us,” she said.