The Hill

Are restaurant owners brave or stupid for turning away the unvaxxed?

By August 11, 2021August 12th, 2021No Comments

(This article originally appeared on The Hill)

In my hometown of Philadelphia, at least a dozen prominent restaurants are requiring that their customers show proof of vaccination or they will be…ready?… turned away! Wow, that’s an interesting move, isn’t it?

“While we understand and appreciate that vaccinations are a personal choice, this is simply a policy based on current scientific guidance in the hopes that we can do our part to help reduce transmission and avoid further shutdowns,” Marc Vetri, owner of the popular restaurant Fiorella, wrote on their Instagram page. “We expect that, much like last year, guidance will continue to change and as it does we will update our policies continuing to provide a safe and comfortable environment for both our team and our guests.” Fiorella does not require vaccination for diners eating outside.

Some may say this is a very brave move. And it is.

Just think about it: The restaurant industry is gasping from one of its worst years since the bubonic plague. Thousands of establishments have gone under. Thousands more have been turned away for promised government aid. The ones that have survived are struggling to get back on their feet. Food prices are rising. Employees are hard to find. It cannot be easy running a restaurant right now. In Philly, summer traffic is lighter as people flock to the shore. It’s even lighter now that some are thinking twice about leaving their homes while the delta variant rages.

And yet, in the midst of all these challenges and uncertainty Vetri, and hundreds of others in the industry are turning away customers. That’s pretty baller. That’s called standing up for something you believe in. It’s an unselfish act and proof that there are people in this world who are truly putting their money where their mouth is to help do their part and push this country past the pandemic.

So yes…brave.  But then again, it’s also kind of stupid, isn’t it?

Approximately half of the U.S. population remains unvaccinated. We all have our opinions as to the rationale of those who, for whatever reason, legally and of their free will have chosen not to put chemicals in their bodies. The science, just like much of the science in this pandemic, has been inconsistent and unreliable. I know many unvaccinated people, and they have reasonable concerns.

Concerns like whether we really, really know that there’s a significant risk that even vaccinated people can pass the virus to the unvaxxed or higher risk individuals. Or that the latest variant (and all the variants to come) are as deadly as before (or even deadlier than the flu), taking into consideration new therapies and treatments. Of course, people at higher risk are more susceptible to COVID-19, but isn’t that the case for all viruses and diseases, including the flu? As for the effects on our health care system, rising hospitalizations are impacting some areas more than others. But most of the country seems fine. In Philly, it’s nowhere near a concern.

More importantly, do the rest of us actually care if a person chooses not to get vaccinated and then contracts COVID? I know I don’t. And if a company’s employees are vaccinated neither should they. The chances of us getting sick, let alone dying if you’re vaccinated are near zero. If you want to play vaccination-roulette that’s up to you.

Yet with all these unanswered questions, Vetri and so many other restaurant owners across the country are still choosing to turn away customers after the worst year in their restaurant’s history. Vetri is a very successful business owner and can probably afford to absorb any revenue losses from this decision (which, by the way, is creating a lot of PR for his businesses, including this piece).

But the vast majority of restaurant owners aren’t in the same boat. Are they morally bankrupt because they choose to serve unvaccinated customers? Of course not. And if it’s any comfort to those folks, I don’t see McDonalds, T.G.I. Fridays, Olive Garden, Chili’s, Ruby Tuesday or Red Lobster doing this either. Why? Because they’re running businesses that need cash flow in order to keep people employed and yes, generate profits and value for their shareholders.

So, is imposing a vaccine requirement a brave or stupid move by restauranteurs? It’s both. I don’t recommend it. You want to be brave? Join your local fire department. You want to be stupid? Bet on the Phillies to win the World Series. But in the meantime, just run (and mind) your own business. And let people do the same with theirs.

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