Cities and counties continue rolling out mandates requiring many businesses to demand customers show proof of vaccination before being allowed inside. These orders, which apply to businesses where people congregate, may be easier to enforce for nightclubs, stadiums or amusement parks, because they already have security operations regularly checking IDs and providing support.
Independent hotels and restaurants, who make up a big segment of the hospitality industry, might be less prepared to turn a host who greets and seats guests into a vaccination bouncer.
Popular destination cities including New York, Oahu, San Francisco and New Orleans are already enforcing their mandates. Los Angeles and Seattle are phasing in their directives, and your city could be next. Businesses that fail to comply — or where someone just innocently accepts someone’s fake vaccination card — can be slapped with costly fines and closures.
We’ve already seen violence break out in New York when a 24-year-old greeter, following the law, was beaten by enraged customers denied entrance for refusing to show proof of vaccination. And San Francisco’s In-N-Out Burger restaurant was temporarily ordered to shut down after authorities discovered its swamped fast-food staff weren’t asking for proof of vaccinations from everyone 12 and older who wanted to order food.
Hotels so far have escaped government-mandated rules requiring guests to prove their vaccination status. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen. And some of these health directives do not apply to the lobby or common areas, but do apply to restaurants and lounges. For instance, Seattle’s rule also applies to events attended by people who are not hotel guests: weddings, conferences, proms and so on.
And while larger enterprises have human resources and legal advisors to turn to for guidance, how do small hotel operators or independent restaurant owners safely navigate a proof-of-vaccination decree?
Here are a few tips to help walk the tightrope between enforcing government policies and addressing customer complaints.
Your message to customers
- Keep your overall messaging to customers simple. Keep it clear. Keep it consistent. “The vaccination requirement is a government mandate.”
- Empathize. “We feel how you feel, but our business must comply, or it will be fined, shut down or possibly put out of business.”
Signage and social media
- Create new signage advising patrons of the mandate, citing the government code and a website where guests can get more information. Some local health departments are providing downloadable signage for you to post, so check online. Place these notices in multiple highly-visible locations: Entry door, reception desk, inside restrooms, at bar or eating counters.
- Restaurants should announce the directive prominently on menus.
- Announce the new rule on your business social media accounts and pin it to the top of Facebook, Twitter and the rest. Add the announcement to Yelp!, FourSquare, UrbanSpoon, OpenTable and other listings.
- Update your phone recording.
Is everyone ready?
While some companies such as In-N-Out have pockets deep enough to, as they say, “refuse to become the vaccination police for any government,” small hotels and restaurants aren’t in a financial position to object.
The consequences of non-compliance are serious – and even the best-intended attempts to comply can be fraught. Many of these laws encourage guests to report non-compliance to authorities. Some warn against overly scrutinizing people’s proof of vaccination in violation of anti-discrimination laws. Others warn against refusing to accept proof from people who received “WHO approved vaccination from countries outside the U.S.” – which includes three vaccinations not approved by the FDA.
Clearly post the local agency’s provided examples of valid proof of vaccination. It also would be best to require a valid government-issued ID be shown with the guest’s vaccination card, to at least ensure names match on both documents.
Get staff on the same page and create consistency: Make sure they all have memorized your process for checking vaccinations, where to direct guests for more information on the local order, and most importantly, when to hand things over to a manager. For instance, offload to managers the responsibility of being a court of appeal for customers, or the one who gets the final say in accepting a customer’s vaccination card as valid.
Make sure your managers have read and are up to speed on the local order.
If possible, rehearse with your staff to better arm them. Anticipate compliance. Prepare for refusal. Keep things as simple and clear as possible — what to say, how to say it and options to offer. And make it positive.
- “Restaurants are now required to ask for vaccination proof, so if you could please just show me those we can get you seated right away.”
- “Yes, we are allowed to accept proof of a negative Covid test taken within (local ordinance’s timeframe.)”
Let staff know there’s an easy way to pivot with an unvaccinated guest: Most health orders allow guests to sit outside, or to receive take-out. Again, keep it positive.
- “Sure, that’s not a problem, I can just seat you outside today.”
- “I’m really sorry we can’t seat you today, but we can get a take-out order ready for you right away.”
A word about body language
How your staff delivers the message about the vaccine requirement may be as important as what they say; “Help us to stay in business so we may continue serving you, hopefully, we can put this behind us soon”. Body language, facial expressions (even under masks) and tone of voice can either defuse an awkward or tense situation, or enflame one. That’s why it’s important to practice guest interactions — keep it neutral, stay relaxed.
You value your guests and want to remain open for business — and this is what you must do in order to keep serving people.
*This article was first published on Hospitality.net and is reprinted here with permission.