DC restaurants prepare to require diners for proof of vaccination

Starting Jan. 15, restaurants and bars in D.C., along with several other types of businesses, will be required to check that their customers are vaccinated.

Impacted businesses have been preparing for this since it was announced in December, and at Chef Geoff’s in Northwest D.C., that has involved training the staff and getting the word out to regular customers.

“I think fortunately the city has been talked about, so I think the majority of people, maybe 90% of the people, will know that they kind of need to come in, show some ID at the host stand, and get seated,” said Geoff Tracy, owner of Chef Geoff’s.

While Tracy said his restaurant is ready to go, he said he has mixed feelings about the effectiveness of the measures, noting that even with mask mandates, people must remove their masks to eat and drink.

Tracy said his team was required to get vaccinated by October of last year.

“That’s worked out well for my team and I guess now we’ll know that all the customers are vaccinated,” Tracy said.

At Medium Rare in Cleveland Park, there will be a similar approach to Chef Geoff’s to checking diners vaccination credentials.

“We’re happy to finally get directions from local government, saying you need to check these things,” said Mark Bucher, co-founder of Medium Rare.

Bucher said while he welcomes the rule, the restaurant made the decision to wait to require vaccine card checks until the city issued the rule because they did not want to take a position on the controversial measure.

“It’s been a tough spot, you know, asking restaurants to be the enforcers before there was a government mandate,” Bucher said.

Bucher said his staff is also required to be fully vaccinated.

Bucher said one disappointment for him is that Maryland, Virginia and D.C. have not aligned together when issuing new COVID guidelines. That has resulted in confusion and anger among some customers who visit his restaurants across the region.

“Customers that dine will come into Virginia and get mad that we’re not checking their vaccine cards, when they just dined in D.C. the night before and they were forced to check it,” Bucher said.

Bucher also said that over the past few weeks, he believes D.C.’s vaccine rule is partially contributing to a rise in business at his Virginia location. He said since discussions of mandates began, he has seen business at his Arlington location rise substantially. Though he said vaccine requirements are not the only factor, as a rise in omicron cases, cold weather and parking challenges in D.C. are also leading to a quieter dining room in the nation’s capital.

Maryland’s Montgomery County does not have a vaccination rule, but county leaders are considering one.

“The vaccine mandates have made it very confusing to navigate a hospitality business,” Bucher said.

Both restaurateurs said that as they ready their locations for the new rule, both hope to see new cases of COVID reverse trend.

“I’m really hoping these omicron cases start coming down as fast as they went up, and that we can get down to a nice low level again, and go about our business in a more normal way,” Tracy said.

When the rule kicks in on Jan. 15, diners must show proof of one vaccination shot, then on Feb. 15, cards must show proof of a full vaccination.

The new vaccine requirement also applies to nightclubs, taverns, coffee shops and food halls as well as concert, live entertainment and sporting venues. Gyms, fitness centers and conference locations must also check a person’s vaccination status.

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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