Philadelphia restaurant owners react to vaccine mandate for indoor dining

Lou & Choo’s owner Tracy Hardy, left and chef Bruce Palmer pose in the lounge’s outdoor dining area. – Photo courtesy of Peter Breslow

Like other bar and restaurant operators, Tracy Hardy has been coping with various city government regulations since the pandemic hit last year.

Now the co-owner of Lou & Choo’s Lounge is concerned about the new city mandate requiring proof of a COVID-19 vaccination to eat indoors in restaurants or drink inside bars, effective Jan. 3. He understands why the mandate is needed, however, he says the requirement could possibly diminish revenue for bars and restaurants.

Hardy said representatives from neighborhood businesses needed to be at the table when it comes to creating government mandates like this.

“I’m going to be compliant, but there should be some input from the business community, and not just the Center City business community but the neighborhood businesses,” he said.

Under the new mandate, a recent negative COVID-19 test will also be accepted initially. However, after Jan. 17, negative COVID-19 tests will no longer be accepted and vaccines are required.

Lou & Choo’s will start requiring its customers to show proof of vaccination on Monday.

“This will give us a trial run to get it correct so we’ll be compliant by Jan. 3,” Hardy said.

He also wonders how his staff can accurately determine whether customers are presenting real vaccination cards.

“How do we know what’s a legitimate one and what’s not a legitimate one?,” Hardy said.

Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said that people who plan to dine at restaurants must show their official vaccination card and photo identification. They can also use a cell phone photo of the card or an app where users have uploaded their vaccination cards, government ID and picture.

Hardy is also concerned about people creating problems for businesses that refuse to serve customers who don’t produce proof of being vaccinated.

The mandate comes as the legendary Hunting Park lounge is experiencing a slump in revenue. Hardy says the revenue is down by 47% because of the pandemic.

“It’s a blessing that we were able to keep everybody employed,” said Hardy, who has a staff of 25 people.

“It’s definitely been a struggle,” he said. “It continuously has us reinventing the wheel — trying to be creative to sustain the business.”

“Our bar and restaurant is basically a destination spot so people come to it,“ Hardy continued. “It’s very hard to reinvent the wheel of becoming a to-go spot, and that really didn’t help us at all.”

Kiya McNeil, co-owner of the Germantown-based Bistro on the Mall, says the new mandate could be problematic.

“With the new mandate we see two problems,” said McNeil, who opened her restaurant last August. “One, it’s going to kill our dine-in business. And two, there is just no way of enforcing people to bring their cards. How are we going to enforce it?”

She thinks that enforcement of having people show proof of vaccination can become an issue because there are some customers who won’t want to comply with the current mask mandate.

“What we are not trying to do is to get into arguments with our customers,” McNeil said. “There are some people who just don’t want to comply, and that’s going to be an issue.”

Barbara Devan, of Tasties soul food chain, worries that the mandate could curb business — submitted photo

Barbara Devan, owner of the West Philadelphia-based Tasties soul food restaurant, is also concerned that the mandate could cause a decrease in business. And said the mandate will lead to more work for her employees.

“It’s just more work and a bigger headache,” Devan said. “We have to get used to whatever rules they are putting in place. We’re going to follow the rules and the regulations even if we don’t like it.”

The city’s new vaccination mandate applies to bowling alleys, casinos (where food is served on the floor), indoor restaurants, bars, food courts, movie theaters, catering halls, sports venues that serve food and cafes within larger establishments.

The rule calls for staff that work in these restaurants to have at least one dose of vaccine by Jan. 3 and to complete their vaccine series by Feb. 3. This also applies to children ages 5 through 11 years old.

The new rule does not apply to children younger than 5 or people with valid medical or religious exemptions. Bettigole said these individuals must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 24 hours if they are going into an establishment that seats more than 1,000 people. This requirement does not apply to children under age 2, who cannot be tested easily for COVID-19.

 ajones@phillytrib.com 215-893-5747

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