The City of Los Angeles’ new proof of vaccine mandates for bars, restaurants, and other indoor spaces (like gyms, coffee shops, salons, movie theaters, museums, and performance venues) are here. The rules affect tens of thousands of businesses across the city of Los Angeles starting today; the county of Los Angeles, which has jurisdiction over unincorporated communities in greater Los Angeles County, has similar (but not quite overlapping) rules as well.
In short: Diners wishing to sit indoors at restaurants, bars, clubs, shopping centers, movie theaters, coffee shops, distilleries, breweries, and more must now show proof of full COVID-19 vaccination at the door, with those businesses responsible for individual compliance — a full list of the so-called Safe Pass L.A. rules can be found here. Restaurants and dining establishments that do not follow these rules can face warnings and escalating fines, though enforcement won’t begin until November 29 to give businesses time to adjust.
As for how compliance actually shakes out at the ground level, that’s much more complicated. The LA Times spoke with several restaurant owners in low-vaccination areas who say that asking for proof of full vaccination threatens to not only turn away some local customers and much-needed dollars, it could put workers in unsafe and potentially hostile situations. “I don’t know what the solution is,” Hotville Chicken owner Kim Prince told the Times, “but what I do know is that businesses are already suffering and they are going to suffer to the point of closure, particularly if they rely on patrons to come through their door and they know that their community is not vaccinated.”
Others, like Good Clean Fun wine bar owner Ian Asbury in Downtown LA, say that patience with potentially volatile customers is going to be key. “Be nice. Be understanding. Let guests know it’s a government mandate, not a Good Clean Fun mandate,” Asbury tells Eater. As for the worry about the potential for lost revenue, he adds: “Of course there is a worry. I feel big time for those who have had to experience the worst-end result with Covid the most, however. It pushes me harder as a business owner to help control what we can control, by listening to scientists and leaving politics out of it.”
Little Llama owner Jean Valcarcel agrees about leading with safety and science. “We know that we have to do our part to make it a safe environment for our guests and employees,” Valcarcel says. As for how to enforce the new rules? Valcarcel is telling staff “not to take it personal if people are not happy,” echoing Asbury in telling customers that’s a citywide mandate that comes with fines for restaurants who don’t comply. And with some Downtown offices bringing back workers in the coming months, there’s hope for a brighter future soon.
David Oz of the newer Stone Street on Melrose says that his New York City cafe space, which has had a vaccine mandate in place for weeks, is providing a model for how LA diners are likely to respond. “We’ve had very little pushback,” Oz says of the NYC outlet, adding: “I think most customers will be aware of the new mandate and will be accustomed to it since every place will require it. We’ve told our staff to simply be polite as usual and ask anyone who comes inside for proof of vaccination, in the same way they would ask someone for their photo ID to purchase an alcoholic beverage.” He, like Valcarcel, will also lean on outdoor patio seating for those who do not wish to show proof of vaccination.
Fred Guerrero’s Burgerlords only just reopened its indoor dining space in Highland Park, and Guerrero believes that any problems will be few and far between, though the potential for lost revenue is always a worry. “We’re trying to find creative ways to generate revenue through other channels,” says Guerrero, including national shipping for the group’s housemade all-vegan burger patties. Ultimately, he says, “our biggest concern is the safety of the staff. Seeing as how things went last year, we’re erring more on the cautious side. Our staff is always top priority here, so if it gets to the point where it feels unsafe to operate, we’ll just shut down and take a break.”
William Lau of French cafe and marketplace Monsieur Marcel at the Original Farmers Market is thankful that the market itself is indoor-outdoor, meaning most of the on-site seating is open-air enough to make vaccine requirements moot. Still, he and his team have been cautious throughout the pandemic. “We have been following safety protocols since the beginning to ensure that our customers and employees feel safe,” says Lau, and he believes that the upcoming holiday season will only mean more foot traffic for the tourist-heavy shopping area — as long as everyone abides by the local mandates for any indoor spaces. “We plan on seeing a positive impact in revenue as we move into the holidays,” says Lau. “We feel like everyone will be in the mood to celebrate with friends and family this year, after the past year and a half of lockdowns and separation.”
If anything, Burgerlords’ Guerrero adds, he’s just as worried about customers who (still) get riled up to learn that his restaurant is entirely plant-based; it’s a small, but sometimes volatile anti-vegan group, apparently. “We had one guy throw a burger back at us” at the Chinatown location, says Guerrero, proving once again that even on good days it’s hard to run a restaurant.