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What’s the Best Way to Show Vaccine Proof at SF Restaurants?

An out-of-towner wants to know the best way to show vaccine proof, and honestly wouldn’t we all 

San Francisco Leads Cities In Demanding Proof Of Vaccination Getty

Welcome to Ask Eater, a column from Eater SF where the site’s editors answer difficult dining questions from readers and friends. Have a question for us? Submit it via this form.

Question: Will I need to bring my vaccine card around to different places in San Francisco if we go to a restaurant or bar? Is a picture on my phone good enough? I’m not sure what the vibe is in SF, if you have any insight. I doubt my parents would know, but I could ask them too.

Cousin Confused About Vax Cards

Hey confused cousin! What a great question. First of all, you’re not alone. With family and friends coming over the holidays, plenty of visitors might want to know what to expect with from local restaurant rules. And second, to be honest, wouldn’t we all. As you astutely noticed, San Francisco currently has both a vaccine mandate and a mask mandate. While it’s easy for restaurants to check if you have a mask on your face, it’s more tedious to check if you’ve been vaccinated. So despite months of practice, there still isn’t exactly one best way to show vaccine proof. But here’s the rundown on how many restaurants and diners have been handling it so far.

Per the official mandate from the SF Department of Public Health, valid forms of vaccine verification include:

  • A vaccine card from the CDC, a copy of that vaccine card, or an electronic photo of that vaccine card.
  • A digital vaccine record from the State of California, or as issued by another state or local or foreign government.
  • A digital vaccine record from some approved private companies — more on apps below.

The vast majority of diners seem to be showing cards or photos of their cards, and it’s about a fifty-fifty split of people carrying physical cards or scrolling through photos, confirms general manager Dennis Leung of popular dim sum spot Palette Tea House. Carrying the physical card around is arguably the fastest and easiest at the host stand; but much like a passport, you wouldn’t want to lose or damage it, and it’s not coated and doesn’t fit in all wallets, so it’s risky to carry around. Some smart people have made a physical copy and laminated it, so if you happen to have a crafty friend, that’s a pro move.

Snapping a photo is safer, although it does involve the most scrolling to swipe into your phone, tap into Camera Roll, tap Albums, tap Favorites, and scroll to pull it up. If you, like this writer, tend to live life at 20 percent battery power or less, it can make for an extra exciting night out. According to a bartender at Recovery Room in Excelsior, one regular actually switches her phone background to an image of her card when she goes out, so she doesn’t even have to unlock her screen. What a legend.

Fewer people seem to be using the state website or third-party apps, only about 10 percent of the diners walking into Palette, Leung estimates. The website from the state of California is an official option; you can click to the site, answer a few questions, and the state will text or email you a digital record, which you can screenshot or download. Some restaurants have posted QR codes at the host stand to get you to the site faster, and it is pretty quick, provided you have good internet (we did hear from one diner who had to stand in the center of the road to get reception before having a beer at Woods in the Outer Sunset). But again, for repeat use, this might lead to scrolling through images or digging through downloads. And you can’t use it if your records aren’t with the state of California, although restaurants should accept an equivalent official document from your state or foreign government.

Beyond the official state site, there are a few third-party apps, which some people might find more user friendly. There’s an approved list on the SFDPH website, including the CLEAR HealthPass, if you already have that for travel. But anecdotally, very few local diners seem to be using those.

Whichever option you go for, it’s not worth stressing out over, as restaurants want to seat you. But in addition to vaccine proof, you will need to show a valid photo ID, so staff can match names. Leung says that occasionally, a tourist has to run back to a hotel room, but not because they’re missing vaccine proof, more often because they didn’t want to carry around their passport. “It really hasn’t been that difficult,” says Leung, who has an 11-year-old and a 3-month-old at home. “Sometimes we hear people complain, but it really only takes a minute or two at check in, and the effort is well worth it to give us extra protection.”