DC-area restaurant group to require COVID-19 vaccine to dine-in Jan. 1

D.C. restaurants will ask guests to prove they are vaccinated against COVID-19 starting Jan. 15, but a restaurant group with businesses in D.C., Northern Virginia, Maryland and New York will require patrons to be vaccinated starting New Year’s Day.

Michael Babin, president of Neighborhood Restaurant Group which owns places like Blue Jacket and Iron Gate, said all of the group’s 19 locations will require dine-in guests to prove they’re vaccinated.

“It’s a burden on the teams … it’s a burden on our guests,” Babin said. “But when you take all of the considerations into account, we really believe it’s the right thing to do for our teams and for our guests.”

The decision comes months after the group enforced a requirement that employees get vaccinated. Babin said accounting for a few exemptions, 99% of the restaurants’ staff is vaccinated.

Babin said he was glad to see D.C. made a citywide decision and hopes other localities will follow suit in providing guidance after many restaurants have been asked to “weigh in on public health decisions that we’re not really equipped or trained for.”

“The more the states or the localities are willing to step out and put these kind of requirements on, that’s better from our perspective and it’s clarifying,” he said, adding, “there is controversy among our guest community about some of these things.”

“Our goal is simply to provide great experiences, great food and beverage. We’d rather not be the ones in the crossfire of that controversy. But eventually, we have to make decisions”

With the omicron variant seeming to move quickly, as compared to other COVID-19 variants, Babin said he is hopeful that this spike will burn out by spring.

Some of the businesses in the group haven’t reopened since the pandemic, but Babin said the company is preparing for “a whole lot of reopenings” in 2022.

WTOP’s Anna Gawel and Luke Lukert contributed to this report.

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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.

Jessica Kronzer

Jessica Kronzer graduated from James Madison University in May 2021 after studying media and politics. She enjoys covering politics, advocacy and compelling human-interest stories.

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