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Could a Vaccination Mandate for Indoor Dining Be Coming to San Francisco?

The short answer: It’s not off the table

A man holds up a COVID vaccination card Shutterstock
Lauren Saria is the editor of Eater SF and has been writing about food, drinks, and restaurants for more than a decade.

As of August 2, masks are back on in San Francisco and most of the Bay Area as the more contagious delta variant continues to spread, primarily among unvaccinated individuals. It’s led some to once again question the safety of engaging in high-risk activities like indoor dining and to call for officials to require proof of vaccination from anyone who wants to dine inside a restaurant, which New York City became the first U.S. municipality to do when it announced its “Key to NYC Pass” program on August 3.

This all leads to the question: could a vaccination mandate be coming to San Francisco, too? The short answer is that it’s not off the table. On Tuesday, August 3, SF Health Director Dr. Grant Colfax said the city is “exploring” the idea, the SF Chronicle reports. For now, the city is simply encouraging business owners to institute their own vaccination policies, but it’s also considering whether or not officials need to take things a step further, which could include a mandate for businesses to require proof of vaccination in indoor public spaces such as restaurants, gyms, and concerts.

Of course, there’s a growing number of Bay Area restaurant and bar owners requiring all indoor diners and drinkers to provide proof of vaccination, a policy the San Francisco Bar Owners Alliance endorsed on July 26. The Golden Gate Restaurant Association, on the other hand, has held off, pointing out that “verifying vaccination status presents many challenges for the restaurant community.” Not only are restaurant staff not trained to verify vaccination status, but restaurants are also “porous” spaces with numerous entry points. Plus, there’s always the potential for restaurant staff to have to deal with pushback from customers, as star chef Pim Techamuanvivit pointed out on Twitter in July.

“Until the city, the county, or the state comes up with some standardized way of proving someone’s vaccination record without violating their privacy, and also make it easy for us to be able to verify these things, then I don’t know how we’re supposed to do it,” Techamuanvivit told Eater.

Standardizing the way businesses should check vaccination is exactly what New York’s policy did: people will have to use “the city’s new app, the state’s Excelsior app or a paper card,” per the New York Times. That means less ambiguity around whether or not a photo will work and no room to accept a negative COVID-19 test either. New York’s policy goes into effect later this month, while enforcement won’t start until September 16. We’ll have to wait and see if San Francisco follows suit.