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Despite Being Shut Down by the City, the Burger Overlords of San Francisco’s In-N-Out Are Still Allowing Indoor Dining

The SF Department of Health says it’s investigating a complaint that the restaurant is allowing indoor dining and refusing to check vaccination cards

John Varvatos 13th Annual Stuart House Benefit Presented By Chrysler With Kids’ Tent By Hasbro Studios - Inside Photo by Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images for John Varvatos
Lauren Saria is the editor of Eater SF and has been writing about food, drinks, and restaurants for more than a decade.

About a week after San Francisco Department of Public Health forced the city’s only location of cult-favorite burger chain In-N-Out to suspend indoor dining due to the company’s refusal to enforce city health mandates, the restaurant is under investigation again for allowing diners to continue to eat inside — essentially also refusing to follow the city’s latest directive. Since announcing it would not enforce the city’s vaccination mandate, the company has catapulted itself to the center of the ongoing pandemic culture war, drawing support for its defiance from conservatives including former Vice President Mike Pence, who tweeted a photo of himself outside an In-N-Out restaurant on Friday.

In an email to Eater SF on Monday, the health department confirmed it received a complaint to the city’s non-emergency 311 line about diners eating inside the restaurant located at 333 Jefferson Street in the tourist-friendly Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood. SFDPH is investigating further will take “take next steps to address any observed violations,” according to the statement.

Since October 14, In-N-Out’s only San Francisco location has been permitted to offer takeout and outdoor dining only. In an emailed statement to Eater SF on October 19, In-N-Out’s Chief Legal and Business Officer Arnie Wensinger called the city’s vaccination mandate “clear governmental overreach” and said the company would not “become the vaccination police for any government.”

A woman eating inside the San Francisco location of In-N-Out
A person eating inside the San Francisco location of In-N-Out on Saturday, October 23
Eater SF

Now In-N-Out seems to be reluctant to enforce the city’s mandate to suspend indoor dining at its restaurant. On Saturday, October 23, a member of the Eater SF team saw at least one diner eating at a table in the restaurant’s dining room. Clear signage was posted on both the restaurant entrance and the tables stating the restaurant was closed for indoor dining. “In-N-Out is required to close indoor dining until adequate health and safety measures are approved and implemented,” the SFDPH confirmed in an email on October 25. “The business is allowed to operate for take-out and outdoor dining only.”

In response to emailed questions about what steps the company is taking to enforce the suspension of indoor dining at the restaurant, a spokesperson for In-N-Out says in addition to the signs about indoor dining being unavailable, all orders are being packaged to-go. Beyond those measures “our Associates will help politely communicate that indoor dining is unavailable, as needed,” the statement says. Eater SF provided the photo of a person eating in the restaurant dining room on October 23 to In-N-Out via email, but the company did not acknowledge it in its response.

As many reports have pointed out since the company took its vocal stand against San Francisco’s vaccination mandate, In-N-Out has donated thousands of dollars to Republican candidates and causes including the effort to recall Governor Gavin Newsom and President Donald Trump, who received $15,000 from In-N-Out CEO Mark Taylor, and his wife, Traci. So perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that the company continues to flout health orders that have been crafted by Democratic leaders.

And as business owners have pointed out, it can be difficult — though not impossible, if you try — for often understaffed fast-casual restaurants to check diner’s vaccination cards. Before San Francisco’s mandate went into effect, the city’s restaurant lobbying group the Golden Gate Restaurant Association pointed out that checking vaccination cards would present a significant challenge for restaurants, which often have multiple entry points and don’t already have staff trained to check identification. Nevertheless, in an email to Eater SF on October 19, SFDPH said “no other formal notices of violation or closures” aside from those to In-N-Out have been issued in relation to the vaccination mandate.