Some bar and restaurant owners say requiring vaccines is the only way to end 18 months of hell – and bad Yelp reviews aren’t going to change their minds

Kathryn Kulczyk, owner and general manager of The Alembic in San Francisco, sits at her restaurant
  • Business owners are defending their decision to require customers show proof of vaccination.
  • Though many businesses received social media backlash, most customers support their decision.
  • Business owners said requiring vaccines provides additional protection for vulnerable staff members.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Angry customers threatened to spit on and cough at front door staff at The Alembic in San Francisco after being asked to show proof of vaccination.

After the bar decided to require indoor customers be vaccinated upon opening in June, Kathryn Kulczyc, the co-owner and general manager of The Alembic, told Insider she received negative Yelp reviews and emails accusing her of discrimination.

But Kulczyc said the decision was made to keep her staff safe from infection.

“I know that I need to do what’s best for my staff over my customers,” Kulczyc said. “I think this is the best thing that we could do right now.”

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As COVID-19 cases rise again due to the highly-contagious Delta variant, business owners across the country are choosing to require customers to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine upon entering.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is not requiring citizens get a vaccine, but recently recommended all individuals – regardless of vaccination status – wear masks in areas with high transmission.

Some Americans are pushing back against business owners and employees requiring to see vaccination status, an act reminiscent of the anger over mask wearing last year. In 2020, some store workers dealt with violence and harassment when asking customers to wear masks.

A post shared by Brick Street (@brickstoxford)

Despite some criticism, business owners told Insider their decision to require vaccines makes the most sense for the safety of their employees and the community at large. Business owners said the overwhelming majority of people applauded them for requiring vaccines upon entry.

“To get to the other side of this pandemic we need to have larger numbers of the US population vaccinated,” said Holly Smith, the owner of Cafe Juanita in Kirkland, Washington. “My business is always going to be at risk of a closure due to COVID-19 unless the hesitant get vaccinated.”

How businesses are implementing vaccine requirements

Will Weisman, the owner of Brick Street in Oxford, Ohio, will begin requiring vaccine proof on August 18. Patrons can enter only after showing a vaccine card (either the physical card or a photo of it), a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours, or a positive antibody test.

Weisman said though he received backlash from people who had never visited Brick Street, the majority of his customers supported him.

Kari Kuelzer, the owner of Grendel’s Den Restaurant and Bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts, said she had originally only required to see proof of vaccination during peak hours, when the restaurant was over 50% capacity.

But as the Delta variant spreads in Massachusetts, Grendel’s is asking to see a vaccine card before indoor entry at all times. The restaurant is also testing its staff for COVID-19 even though they are all fully vaccinated.

A post shared by Martha (@marthakensington)

Vaccines that help prevent COVID-19 are highly effective at preventing serious illness, but vaccinated people can spread the Delta variant of COVID-19. Vaccinated people don’t transmit the original virus that causes COVID-19, which prompted the CDC to relax mask requirements.

Olivia Caceres, the general manager of Martha in Philadelphia, decided to check vaccine cards at the door after several fully vaccinated workers at a neighboring bar got COVID. Caceres said requiring customers to be fully vaccinated would better protect her staff, many of whom will not qualify for unemployment aid in the case of another lockdown.

Similarly, Crystal Hinds, the owner of New Orleans bar effervescence, said she decided to require indoor diners show proof of vaccination to protect her staff from getting sick. Hinds added workers are already losing income since effervescence is only open three days a week.

The social media backlash Martha received following Caceres’ decision prompted her to turn off Instagram comments on the restaurant’s announcement post. But many of her visitors had come to Martha excited to show their vaccination cards, which Caceres said has given her staff “peace of mind” at work.

“That’s just been incredibly rewarding,” Caceres said. “I really wanted to extend thank you to people who are supporting us right now.”