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Zuni Cafe in San Francisco in 2015
Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Proof of Booster Is the Next Vaccine Mandate Frontier

Two San Francisco restaurants are leading a wave of businesses asking for evidence a booster

In case you need another good reason to get that third jab, here are a couple good ones: At least two San Francisco restaurants now require proof of a booster shot for dine-in customers. Cassava, the destination-worthy all-day restaurant in the Outer Richmond, posted about the decision on Instagram on Tuesday, December 21; Zuni Cafe, the iconic wedge-shaped restaurant on Market, announced the change on Tuesday evening also via Instagram.

While the restaurants are among the first in the city — and the country — to adopt the requirement, it’s not that surprising to see San Francisco business owners starting to move in this direction. Throughout the pandemic, Bay Area restaurants and bars have been consistently proactive in voluntarily adapting their business practices to reflect the latest health recommendations — from closing down indoor dining to requiring proof of vaccination — almost always acting before city officials bring down formal mandates.

San Francisco has required proof of vaccination for indoor dining and drinking since August 2021, but health officials currently consider anyone who’s had two shots of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to be fully vaccinated. Increasingly, however, and especially in light of the rapid spread of the new Omicron variant, health experts are urging anyone who’s able to get a booster — six months after the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or two months after the single dose Johnson & Johnson. Though there’s still a lot we don’t know about Omicron, lab tests have indicated that getting a booster significantly increases the body’s level of virus-fighting antibodies.

And while officials have yet to change the definition of “fully vaccinated” to reflect the medical argument for vaccinated people to get a booster, business owners across the country are once again taking matters into their own hands. On December 20, Chicago bakery and Cafe Bakery Miller became the first business in the Windy City to enforce a proof of booster requirement for indoor diners — though the bakery has since closed its indoor dining altogether following “hate and threats from the anti-vaccine crowd,” per an Instagram post on Tuesday. On Wednesday, December 22, New York City restaurant mogul Danny Meyer also announced the company will begin requiring booster shots for customers wanting to dine indoors.

In an emailed statement Wednesday, restaurant trade group the Golden Gate Restaurant Association continued to encourage restaurant staff to get booster shots, but held off on encouraging a proof of booster mandate for diners. “We acknowledge that each restaurant has its own needs and reasons for establishing indoor dining policies that work best for them and we encourage customers to reach out prior to dining at their favorite restaurant to learn the restaurant’s policies,” the statement reads in part.

One thing is clear: faced with uncertainty around Omicron and in the midst of the high-volume holiday season, Bay Area restaurant and bar owners are hungry for guidance. A number of business owners have chosen to close their doors as staff test positive for the virus; others are doing their best to keep the doors open and push forward. Until there’s action on the part of city health officials, it seems restaurateurs will have to continue to navigate the nightmare before Christmas as best they can.

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