Chicago restaurants grapple with new COVID-19 vaccine evidence policy

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CHICAGO – Monday ushered in a new era for restaurants, bars and other service areas as Chicago and Cook County now require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for indoor locations.

Industries must now refuse customers who do not present proof of dosage. Unexpectedly, the move drew mixed reactions. But, while many customers woke up on Monday morning trying to make the most of the change, the legendary Tavern on Rush helped with the process, posting the posting of the new requirement.

“We’ve been very involved in a lot of the discussions,” said Steven Hartenstein, COO and Business Development Director of Tavern on Rush and Phil Stefani’s 17 signature restaurants. Hartenstein also sits on the board of directors of the Illinois Restaurant Association.

“The advantage is that when you walk in as a guest who has been vaccinated, you now know everyone in the room is vaccinated,” Hartenstein said. “This is a positive point.”

Hartenstein says workers who are not vaccinated should test negative weekly. The restaurant offered testing before employees start their shifts. Other vaccinated employees, Hartenstein says, also underwent testing.

“So it’s mandatory for anyone who is not vaccinated to be tested, and then the vaccinated people if they want to get tested, they get tested,” Hartenstein said. “So we’ve had probably two dozen plus people tested here this morning and thank goodness we’re all negative.”

Across Cook City and County, in an effort to slow the omicron variant to peak, the same policy applies to all restaurants and bars. All clients aged five and over must prove that they are fully immunized. Persons 16 years of age and over must also present an identity document. The same goes for entertainment, recreation places and gyms.

On the Near West Side of town, a waiter says she’s a little uncomfortable about the Palace Grill policy but will adhere to the mandate. But that doesn’t bother customer Joe Murdoch, who thinks ordering is part of the new standard.

“I believe it’s a new way of life,” Murdoch said. “What we are going through is not going to change.

Back in Tavern on Rush, there are concerns that the evidence policy could slow things down on a busy weekend night.

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Hartenstein is hoping that a third-party booking app they use called Open Table will soon allow customers to download their vaccination cards when booking. He also asks people to be patient and not to express frustrations at waiters or other employees.

“We don’t want our staff getting beaten up for obeying the law,” Hartenstein said. “What we can’t do is we can’t go back to partial occupancy because we’re going to lay off employees left and right and we just can’t do it.”

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