When Mayor LaToya Cantrell announced that New Orleans would require proof of coronavirus vaccination for many types of indoor activity starting Monday, tough questions and decisions immediately confronted a type of business tasked with implement the new rule: restaurants.
For some, booking cancellations too.
By Friday morning, the day after Cantrell’s announcement, Brennan’s restaurant, the landmark of the French Quarter, had already canceled some parties, owner Ralph Brennan said. Right after Cantrell’s intervention, staff had started calling customers with reservations and private parties to explain the new requirements, even as the Brennan restaurant group tried to develop their own processes to meet them.
“It’s been hectic,” said Brennan. “But we’re trying to figure out how to comply and do it right. “
Residents and visitors to New Orleans must show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or recent negative test to enter restaurants, bars and more …
A few blocks away, the Galatoire restaurant, normally packed for lunch on Friday, saw its reservations drop overnight, from 350 guests to around 120 before the doors opened for the day.
Melvin Rodrigue, president and CEO of Galatoire, said he was stunned by how quickly City Hall plans to implement the mandate. One of his main concerns, he said, was how to deploy and prepare staff in four days for the job of regulating entry according to the rules.
“I don’t understand how I can ask our employees to be the vaccination police,” Rodrigue said. “Consider a TSA agent at the airport; they are trained for that. How are we supposed to prepare an employee for a potentially conflictual situation? “
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About three dozen New Orleans businesses had their own immunization requirements in place before Cantrell’s tenure, and many reported that there was minimal conflict between clients showing up. However, some fear that now, with a city-wide mandate, tensions are mounting.
For much smaller and more occasional operations, the mandate also posed thorny logistical questions about compliance while keeping the doors open. At least one restaurant, Adolfo’s du Faubourg Marigny, announced in a social media post that it would temporarily close “until we have a solid plan in place to comply with the city’s remaining mandates.”
At Backatown Coffee Parlor on Basin Street, owner Jessica Knox struggled to figure out how to meet the new demands with dwindling financial resources.
“We’ll have to add staff to check people at the gate. But we are now working with minimal staff, and most of us pay more staff, ”she said. “It could mean cutting hours to manage costs. “
The lack of time to make these decisions was a big concern, she said, because “businesses can’t just take a dime like that.”
A wide range of businesses are subject to the New Orleans mandate, which requires both customers and employees to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test for COVID. This includes indoor service in restaurants and bars. City Hall has confirmed that outside service, take-out and drive-thru are excluded.
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The new policy comes as the delta variant of the coronavirus is causing a record number of new infections in Louisiana, with the vast majority of cases being reported among unvaccinated people. The push is again testing the capacity of local hospitals.
The timeline established by City Hall could effectively make New Orleans the first major American city to begin enforcing these requirements.
Cantrell said the local mandate is consistent with the one New York City is implementing. That term also begins on Monday, although enforcement is not expected to begin for another month, September 13, as businesses adapt.
New Orleans plans to begin enforcement on August 23, a week after the term begins. Cantrell’s communications director Beau Tidwell said potential penalties and specific enforcement procedures are still being worked out.
Speaking at Thursday’s press conference, Cantrell said the quick start reflected the urgent crisis unfolding on the local healthcare front.
“We’re here today because we really don’t have a choice. The situation is dire and we are simply out of time, ”she said.
But Stan Harris, president and CEO of the Louisiana Restaurant Association, said businesses are now wondering what data the city will use to measure the success of the tenure and how long it might last.
Tidwell said on Friday that the Cantrell administration will base its future decisions on the end of the mandate once “we are in a less dangerous environment, when the number of cases is drastically reduced, when our hospitals are no longer overwhelmed and when the severe threat of variants will have diminished ”.
While the restaurant association has encouraged vaccination, Harris said the general mandate brought more questions than answers.
“The mandate will add cost and stress to their operations for people who work in the hospitality industry, not the healthcare delivery industry,” Harris said. “It puts businessmen in the difficult position of having to confront their guests. “
The immediate effect of canceled reservations, he said, was an obvious consequence.
“When we say you’re not welcome in New Orleans, they say they heard you with these cancellations,” Harris said.
Katy Casbarian, co-owner of historic Arnaud’s restaurant in the French Quarter, said the vaccination mandate could make some people feel safer when dining out, but with rules in place only in New Orleans , it calls into question its effectiveness in attenuating the tide.
“If the alternative is capacity restrictions, that’s the best option, but unless the rest of the state commits, which I think it should, I don’t think it will help. ‘achieve what we need or what we want it to achieve, ”Casbarian said. noted.
“Without it, you are offering people the option of not having dinner in the parish of Orléans, which makes it more difficult for businesses in the parish of Orléans. “
At Uptown Breads on Oak, owner Sean O’Mahony spent part of Friday morning assessing how the tenure would affect his staff’s schedule.
Employees of warrant companies must also verify proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result. O’Mahony said this adds a layer of complexity to the planning, in order to keep track of test results or vaccination status before shifts. But he said the warrant took a responsibility off its plate.
“Because it comes from the city, it takes some of the burden off us when we explain to people why they have to do this,” he said. “It’s really hard to be the restaurant and the police at the same time.
DISCLOSURE: John Georges, Times-Picayune co-owner | The New Orleans Advocate, is a partner of the Galatoire restaurant.