Portland Restaurant and Bar Owners Follow NYC Indoor Dining Rules By Asking Diners to Show Proof of Vaccination

New York City and Portland, Oregon, have each enjoyed their statuses as cities at the forefront of cultural trends. Bookending America with elevated standards for the fields of music, art, TV, literature, and film, they also have brought their respective dining scenes to new heights, influencing food trends across the country. The service industry tends to remain apolitical, with the exception of workers constantly fighting for higher wages and better working conditions, but it wasn’t until recently that dining out became a political hot button issue, resulting in a battle of wills between restaurant owners and their customers.

The hospitality industry is like no other, where the hierarchy has always been that the needs of the guests come before anyone on the staff’s, and that customer is always right. When encountering the overserved diner or the loud table in the back, there’s a manager who can take care of it. But the COVID-19 pandemic has shattered the service industry: an estimated 110,000 bars and restaurants closed permanently in 2020, with sales and employment being felt disproportionately by full-service restaurants, which had much more challenging pivots to off-premises service.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – JULY 28: A sign is posted at a restaurant that reads, “closed till further notice” as the city continues Phase 4 of re-opening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of coronavirus on July 28, 2020 in New York City. The fourth phase allows outdoor arts and entertainment, sporting events without fans and media production. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

It’s been nearly impossible for the industry to set any standards when some segments of the public are resisting mask mandates and vaccines. The unvaccinated demand the reopening of a country they continue to keep closed. COVID-19 rates have surged again across the country thanks, in large part, to the Delta variant and loosening restrictions. In response, some major American cities have started to re-institute safety mandates for businesses: In New York, all restaurants and bars will need to start checking proof of vaccination to dine indoors starting August 16th, and Los Angeles County renewed indoor mask requirements in mid-July.

However, since Oregon Gov. Kate Brown lifted all restrictions on June 30th, neither the state nor Multnomah County (where Portland is located) has instituted anything more than a mask recommendation. As a result, many bar owners and workers found themselves where they have been all throughout the pandemic: forced to develop and build their own safety precautions where necessary. There are a number of reasons food service workers feel discomfort at the premise of instituting their own restrictions beyond state mandates: In the past, customers have screamed at employees, posted one-star Yelp reviews, and physically harmed restaurant staff enforcing COVID-19 safety policies. As a result, some industry members are leaning on the power of solidarity.

The founder of one of Portland’s most influential cocktail bars, Daniel Shoemaker of Teardrop Lounge, figured it was best to have a unified front in instituting a vaccination policy. When he and his staff decided it was necessary to implement vaccination checks for all indoor diners, he reached out to his peers in the industry to form what he jokingly refers to as a “vaxx cabal,” a loose coalition of bars all requiring some proof of vaccination. So far, Shoemaker says he has at least 15 places on board, but hopes to get more. Most bar owners have said the feedback from diners has been mostly positive, and that even if not, it’s the right thing to do.

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