The owner of a burger restaurant in downtown Manhattan said business plunged by up to 25% in a week – and he blamed it on New York City’s vaccine mandate.
Art Depole, who co-owns the Mooyah Burgers, Fries, and Shakes restaurant in Times Square, told Insider that the mandate was deterring people from visiting his establishment.
This loss in business could cause his restaurant to raise prices, he said.
Under rules introduced last week, people need to provide proof of at least one COVID-19 shot to eat at restaurants in New York City. Depole estimated that sales at his restaurant were between 20% and 25% down that week, with lunchtime and weekend traffic hit the hardest.
Rising cases of the Delta variant could also be putting people off from eating out, Depole said. Sales have dropped at Mooyah restaurants in tourist-heavy areas because the Delta variant has deterred people from traveling, Natalie Anderson Liu, vice president of brand at Mooyah, told Insider. And tourists usually make up just over half of all visitors at the Times Square location, Depole added.
But he said that he didn’t think worries about the Delta variant could have caused the sudden drop in sales because Delta cases were already high anyway.
“The previous week in which the Delta variant was still spreading was far better in sales then last week was,” Depole said.
“I believe, from speaking to people, that it’s more because of the mandate,” he said.
The vaccine mandate was “very polarizing” in comparison with past mask mandates, he added.
Restaurants that voluntarily enforced their own vaccine mandates told Insider that some customers had left bad reviews and threatened to spit on and cough at staff over the policy.
“I never had one incident with a customer who gave me a hard time when they were asked to wear a mask,” Depole said.
The restaurant industry is ‘the easy target’
Depole said he understood the reasoning behind the vaccine mandate, but that the restaurant industry was “the easy target” and being “unfairly picked on.”
“We’re being singled out as someone who has to enforce this mandate while other large retailers aren’t having to go through the same type of requirements that we are to allow customers to enter,” he said.
An analysis published in Nature found that the majority of COVID-19 infections early in the pandemic could be traced to “superspreader” locations, which included restaurants.
“The places that are the riskiest are restaurants, gyms, cafes, and hotels,” the study’s co-author Jure Leskovec told Insider. “These are all places where people are relatively densely packed together for a long period of time.”
But Depole said his restaurant is safe. “We have had zero cases of COVID linked to our restaurant,” he said.
Anderson Liu said that Mooyah introduced a COVID-19 checklist for all its restaurants at the start of the pandemic, which includes sanitizing restaurants every 15 minutes and screening staff for the coronavirus.
“So I can tell you that almost with a 100% certainty that our restaurant is safer than most of the retail outlets that are not affected by this,” Depole said.
*story by Business Insider