The Vaccine Rollout and the Restaurant Industry

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of March 29, 15% of the U.S. population, or 51 million people, are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In addition, 93 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

Currently, over 2.8 million vaccine doses are being administered every day.

Restaurants, one of the pandemic’s hardest-hit industries, are looking forward to decreasing restrictions and increasing dine-in guests as the world slowly find a way out of the destruction brought on by COVID-19.

Yet, despite the ambitious “shot in the arms” schedule, restaurant guests are uncertain about returning to indoor dining. Morning Consult’s March report showed that only 41% of adults in the U.S. feel safe eating inside restaurants. In February, 51% of adults said they felt safe dining out at restaurants. In March, that number dropped by 7%. The CDC has little to say on the subject, and what they do say is often detrimental.

A recent report from the Center reiterated the recommendation of universal mask-wearing and avoiding nonessential indoor spaces to mitigate the spread of the virus. They specifically pointed to an increase in cases in counties where states allowed on-site restaurant dining.

The National Restaurant Association responded with suggestions that, once again, the CDC was pinning the blame of rising cases on one of the hardest-hit industries and had not accounted for several other variables. These contributing factors included other types of business closures, local policies, physical distancing recommendations, and restaurants adhering to effective mitigation efforts.

As they so eloquently stated, “Furthermore, correlation does not equal causation. For example, if a positive correlation between ice cream sales and shark attacks is found, that would not mean that ice cream causes shark attacks.”

Restaurants, in turn, are determining how to keep their staff and guests safe while returning to the new normal. Masks are still on and social distancing measures are still in place, and operators are urging employees to get their vaccinations.

Incentivizing Employees

According to the recent Black Box Intelligence Restaurant Workforce Vaccination Survey, half of all respondents are encouraging employees to get vaccinated and providing incentives to do so. Let’s take a look at how operators are persuading their employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

  • Over 50% are offering their employees paid time off to get the vaccine.
  • One-third are giving employees a one-time cash payment as an incentive.
  • Over 10% are providing more work hours for those who are vaccinated.

Another interesting statistic is that, even after receiving vaccinations, most operators intend to keep safety protocols in place, including mask-wearing and social distancing.

Restaurant’s Vaccination Policies

Darden Restaurants, parent company to The Capital Grille, Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, and other brands, announced to their employees back in February that they were offering two hours of pay for each vaccine received. The pay is based on earnings and tips and cannot exceed $20 an hour. The company currently employs approximately 133,000 hourly workers in 1,185 restaurants.

McDonald’s is encouraging employees of corporately-owned restaurants and workers at their corporate headquarters to receive vaccinations by providing up to four hours of paid time off.

Nipsey’s, a restaurant and lounge bringing Southern fare to the Southeast Side of Chicago, recently announced that they’ll be paying $150 to employees that get their COVID-19 vaccination.

Shake Shack is offering their employees six hours of paid time off, while Noodles & Company is providing four hours. Chipotle is paying employees the costs associated with receiving the vaccine. As more vaccines become available, more restaurants are turning to paid time off as a way to urge their employees to get vaccinated.

While the debate regarding mandated vaccines will undoubtedly continue, it’s clear that restaurant operators are doing all they can to increase the public’s sense of safety when dining out, while retaining their employees’ right to choose. Hopefully, this model, in which people can retain their freedom of choice and medical rights while still creating a safer environment to live in, will carry through other industries. With over 70% of current or recent CEOs of major companies stating they would considerer requiring vaccinations, a mandated shot in the arm may very well be the wave of the future.

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