No shots, no service

The large chalkboard sign in the doorway warned: “Masks and vaccination required!”

But as I entered a bar in the Richmond District this weekend, no one stopped me to ask whether I had been vaccinated. At the bar counter, I offered to show my immunization card, but the bartender shook his head.

The bar isn’t enforcing the vaccine mandate, he told me. Unless the city orders that all businesses check vaccination cards, the bar’s sign will merely serve as motivation for people to get their shots.

He handed me my drink. I decided to sit outside.

Among the businesses hardest hit by the pandemic, bars and restaurants are scrambling to stay open and hold onto customers as coronavirus cases surge in California and across the nation. But their approaches differ widely.

While some California cities are home to a growing number of businesses serving only vaccinated customers, many have none. And some restaurants require vaccination for indoor and outdoor seating, while others require it only for those sitting inside.

And at many establishments, enforcement of these new rules remains spotty, a mix of reluctance to drive away customers and poor implementation of unfamiliar rules. (The first time I went to a bar with a vaccination requirement in Los Angeles, the bouncer checked my friends’ vaccine cards but not mine.)

Still, public health experts say, the policies can’t hurt.

Vaccinated people are less likely to contract and spread the coronavirus, so the higher the percentage of immunized people indoors, the better. In California, about 53 percent of residents are vaccinated.

The new rules could also function like indoor smoking bans, which drove down rates by making life a little bit more difficult for smokers, said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco.

“These are all things that are intended to make it more inconvenient to be unvaccinated,” Bibbins-Domingo told me. “I think that will move the people who need to make a different decision today than they made yesterday.”

As coronavirus cases spike nationwide, New York last week became the first city in the U.S. to announce that it would require that people would need at least one dose of a vaccine for a variety of activities, including indoor dining, gyms and performances.

Though some businesses are reluctant to adopt a policy that could limit their clientele, others see it as a way to keep customers coming back.

Just over a week ago, Urban Mo’s, a gay bar in San Diego, began requiring that people show proof of vaccination to attend its drag shows and other indoor events. It is one of only two restaurants in San Diego with such a rule, according to NBC 7.The move has prompted a flurry of angry comments on social media as well as threatening phone calls, the owner Matt Ramon told me. But patrons largely support the requirement because it makes them more comfortable, he said.

“We’ve just been kind of hanging up on” the callers, he said. “We’re not going to react to what we think is safe.”

“We don’t have a fear of hurting the business,” he said, “so we can take the stance for everybody.”

Originally published in the New York Times.