NYC restaurants cheer lifting of COVID vaccine mandate

Pop the champagne.

New York restaurants and other indoor venues celebrated Monday as the Big Apple’s vaccination record was lifted.

“We are totally relieved. It’s a relief for me and I think for the staff. We won’t be drowning in red tape like we used to,” Rena Ismail, owner of Oregano in Williamsburg, told The Post. “I feel like we were a bit overwhelmed at times, because the staff not only had to serve but also to watch, and I am grateful they no longer have to do that.”

Ismail, who employs a “small staff” of 11 at the Italian restaurant, said the workers who have to check vaccination cards at the door made operations “a little more chaotic” for her busy workers.

“I think it was an addition to the already numerous responsibilities they have … it kind of added to that aggravation, and it was difficult,” she said.

Proof of vaccination order
Restaurants in New York City are celebrating the return to normal as the COVID-19 vaccine detection mandate is lifted.

Scott Gerber – who runs five upscale bars in the city, including Mr. Purple and The Campbell in Grand Central – was excited that workers would no longer have to enforce public health regulations.

“It will be nice when our employees are no longer police officers,” said Gerber. “I don’t think anyone really likes being a Guardian like that.”

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Association, thought similarly.

Diners in New York
The Key to NYC program began last summer under Mayor Bill de Blasio and required customers to show proof of vaccinations to enter bars, restaurants and other indoor venues.

“It was such a difficult two years. Restaurant and nightlife workers have been ‘Covid enforcers’ across the pandmeic. I think many are relieved, not all — but many — at not having to be those enforcers,” he told the Post. “It put workers in a difficult position to check vaccination records.”

Stathis Antonakopoulos – the owner of Carnegie Diner and Cafe on the Upper East Side Cafe and Pizza & Shakes on West 57 the Street – told The Post: “I’m very relieved, happy and ready to finally move on.

“Covid was a bad pandemic,” he said. “But now we have vaccines and we also have cures. Restaurants paid a heavy price with Covid. Moving away from asking customers about vaccines is a step towards normality.”

Vaccination application on sandwich panel
Mayor Eric Adams announced last Friday that he is preparing to drop the vaccination certificate mandate, but businesses that wish to continue requiring their customers to have their vaccination certificate can still do so.

The Key to NYC program — launched last summer under ex-Mayor Bill de Blasio and maintained by his successor Eric Adams — requires bars, restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and other indoor facilities to screen all guests for COVID-19 19 are vaccinated.

But last week Adams announced he was prepared to scrap the vaccination card program and mask requirements for public schools barring an unexpected surge in coronavirus cases, and confirmed the decisions on Friday.

Adams’ decision came after Gov. Kathy Hochul lifted the state’s business mask mandate in mid-February and later in the month lifted face-covering requirements for New York public schools.

Businesses that want to continue to require customers to be vaccinated against the virus can continue to do so, the mayor said. The Broadway League, for example, has opted to maintain mask and vaccination requirements for its shows.

Patrick Hayes, manager of Virgil’s Real BBQ in Midtown, said some workers told him they felt less safe without the rule in place.

“Some of my waiters said they were worried we wouldn’t ask for VAX cards anymore. Some of them said they weren’t comfortable and asked if we could keep asking for Vax cards. They said they weren’t sure if they would come to the shift otherwise,” he told the Post

Deanna Hendrickson, a cashier at Cipriani Downtown in SoHo, called the mayor’s decision “crazy” and said it came “a bit quickly.”

“We just need vaccinations,” she said.

But for Stratis Morfogen — operations manager and co-owner of the Brooklyn Chophouse in the Financial District — the end of the program couldn’t come soon enough.

Masked customer
Virgil’s Real BBQ manager Patrick Hayes said some of his employees were concerned about coming to work without the policy.
Michael M Santiago

“We stopped checking this weeks ago,” Morfogen told The Post. “The [end of the] Mandate is better late than never. Adams keeps his word to the hospitality industry and that means more to me than anything.”

Forest Hills Station House owner Stephen Elkins said that while the Key to NYC program didn’t hurt his bottom line, it did slow things down at his bar.

“It’s a good thing. I think it’s better. I’m ok with that. Checking people at the door really slowed me down, but people also felt more comfortable,” he said. “What’s done is done , I’m glad it’s lifted.”

When asked if he was considering keeping the policy of ensuring all customers are vaccinated against COVID-19 as it doesn’t hurt business and makes it more comfortable for some customers, Elkins replied he wouldn’t.

“I don’t think there’s a reason for that,” he said. “I’m a cash business. Most people who come to me want to get out, they want to have a good time, they want to drink, so if you’re overly concerned and someone doesn’t want to come out because we’re not enforcing a vaccination mandate, I believe they can go somewhere else.”

Granit Dedushi, the manager of Paesano on Mulberry Street, said the repeal of the mandate is another step in a series of recent steps towards the five boroughs returning to their pre-pandemic ways.

“I mean, it’s pretty much back to normal now,” he said. “Before that, we checked all IDs and vaccines. So basically back to normal now. It speeds up the process a bit because we don’t have to stop people at the door and say show us your vaccination cards. So pretty much back to normal.”

Robert Briskin – the owner of upscale restaurant American Brass in Long Island City – said he was “excited to welcome all guests to our restaurant. He said that when the Key to NYC program went into effect, “the place’s business plummeted 30 percent.

“The crisis of this moment is over and we look forward to taking our business and our city back to a pre-Covid era,” he added.

For Jimmy Haber, owner of BLT Steak and BLT Prime in Midtown Manhattan, the impact of the shot requirement for his restaurants, by and large, has been relatively small.

“I think the lifting of the vaccination mandate is a small part of a bigger picture,” Haber said. “If people come back to work and tourists come back, that will help. These are the two biggest factors affecting our business. We don’t think we’re not seeing any customers because of the vaccination order.”

Blame BLT Steak’s business for a 50 percent drop from 2019 is the lack of the usual crowds of officer employees in the neighborhood, Haber said.

“Hopefully it’s a sign of normality that will lead to tourists and office workers coming back,” he said.

Chris McCormack, manager of the Brooklyn Diner near Times Square, shared Haber’s assessment.

“I can count on one hand how many people we turned away without vaccination cards. I can go days without seeing anyone without a VAX card and we stopped asking today,” he told the Post. “I have a feeling that we’re going in that direction anyway, that business would get better anyway. We had a great holiday time and the last two weeks have been great.”

Restaurant with vaccination mandate sign
Restaurant owners told the Post they’re glad they’re not under as much regulation now that the Key to NYC program is being lifted.

On the first morning, restaurants and other indoor venues no longer had to check diners’ vaccination status and public school kids in grades K-12 didn’t have to dress up, Adams made a lap of honor in the East Village, where he spoke shopkeepers and greeted passers-by in unseasonably hot weather .

“People want to believe again in two ways, substantively: what we did today, picking up keys in NYC, kids not wearing masks, etc.,” he said. “But they also wanted to believe symbolically.” “You know, they want a mayor who isn’t aloof, it’s not walking around with layers and layers of security forces willing to recognize that he or she isn’t perfect.

“We focus on the negative and not the positive and I only focus on the positive – and that gives me renewed energy, it’s a beautiful day. It’s sunny outside, it’s warm outside,” enthused the mayor. “It’s a prelude to summer but I need to open my shops. … My city needs to open up so that our city can thrive.”

During his tour, the mayor made a stop at the legendary Ukrainian diner Veselka, where he shared a vegetarian lunch of borscht, stuffed cabbage, rice, mushrooms and a Levine ate green salad.

Additional reporting by Lisa Fickenscher, Kevin Sheehan and Catalina Gonella NYC restaurants cheer lifting of COVID vaccine mandate


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