At least two Denver establishments are asking guests to show proof they are fully vaccinated before dining. Bar Max and To the Wind Bistro, two venues just a few blocks away from each other on East Colfax, will require guests to flash their records to dine in.
Bar Max implemented their policy in an attempt to create a safe environment for frontline workers, while To the Wind has reserved Wednesday-night dinner service exclusively for vaccinated guests. Both policies have been in effect since April, but the Delta variant has brought safety back to the forefront.
Sonia Riggs, CEO of the Colorado Restaurant Association, or CRA, echoed these concerns.
“This is a conversation that’s starting to come up in the restaurant community,” she said, adding, “So I suspect we’re going to see more restaurants come out with some sort of policy like this in the future.”
On one recent Wednesday, co-owner Royce Oliveira had no issues casually asking to see diners’ proof of vaccination. Most guests were already aware of the policy and had theirs on-hand when entering the establishments’ small dining room (which, by the way, is nestled right next to another well-loved Denver establishment: Babooshka hair salon).
The vaccine-only Wednesdays at To the Wind have been very successful, turning what used to be a pretty sleepy weeknight for the establishment into a packed dinner service.
Oliveira is fully vaccinated and healthy, and said he wanted his customers to have the same peace of mind he’s felt since he received his vaccination.
CEO Riggs said the CRA supports restaurants enforcing policies they believe will keep guests safe. However, mandatory mask policies will likely come before most restaurants take the route Bar Max and To the Wind have taken by checking vaccine records.
As far as the legality of requiring guests to show vaccine records, it’s just like the mask mandates: complicated.
Riggs said restaurants do have the ability to enforce guidelines they think are important for safety. Just as some have resisted the mask mandate, some haven’t gotten vaccines for religious or health reasons.
“Restaurants are asked to accommodate those folks in some way,” she said. “That can be by giving them the ability to order and take their food home, or it can be by asking that they sit in an outdoor space. So there are a number of things that they can do.”
Annalouiza Armendariz, a minister, agreed that she felt safe during her meal at at To the Wind. One of her friends was excited to use her passport for the first time.
“My friend here was like, ‘Yes, I want to show it more! I want to be able to say, I’m safe for myself and for other people!'” she said. She said she got vaccinated early so she could continue providing spiritual services.
However, beyond COVID-19 concerns, Riggs said restaurants’ main hurdle at the moment is staffing. The increased vaccinated population has kept COVID-19 hospitalizations low, and the numbers are nowhere near where they were at the height of the pandemic. Closing restaurants is not expected again.
Riggs wants customers to have empathy and understanding for service workers.
“Remember, they have been extremely hard hit over the last 18 months,” she said. “Two or three months of being open does not fix the last 15 months; it just doesn’t happen that quickly. They’re digging their way out of debt, and they’re doing the best they can to keep people safe.”