Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group will require indoor diners and drinkers at its restaurants to show they’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19. The mandate also applies to current employees and new hires.
The announcement, which Meyer made Thursday on CNBC’s “Squawk Box,” comes as concern around the highly contagious delta variant increases, and U.S. officials try to combat COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy and resistance among some Americans.
“This is the most logical thing I’ve ever seen,” Meyer said. “I’m not a scientist, but I know how to read data and what I see is that this is a crisis of people who have not been vaccinated, and I feel strong responsibility, on our part as business leaders, to take care of our team and our guests, and that’s what we’re doing.”
Meyer, founder of Shake Shack and chairman of the fast casual chain’s board, said that company will set its own policy regarding vaccines. “Shake Shack will make the appropriate decision for them at the appropriate time,” he said.
At Union Square Hospitality Group, Meyer said the vast majority of workers are already vaccinated, adding the company offered eight hours of pay per COVID-19 shot.
“We’re going to give our employees 45 days to make the choice and hopefully this will be the incentive that really makes them say, ‘You know what, now I’m going to do it,’” he said.
Union Square Hospitality Group has a large presence in New York City. Is restaurants include Gramercy Tavern, Manhatta and Union Square Cafe. It also operates Anchovy Social in Washington, D.C.
Recently, a number of government and private-sector entities like Google and Facebook have taken a harder line on vaccine requirements for employees in recent days. Some believe these steps are critical to increasing the vaccination rate in the U.S. after it has slowed dramatically from its spring peak.
President Joe Biden is expected to announce later Thursday that all federal workers will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or be subject to strict coronavirus testing requirements. The Department of Veterans Affairs said Monday all of its health care workers must be vaccinated.
Earlier this week, the San Francisco Bar Alliance recommended its nearly 500 member bars ask customers to prove they’ve been vaccinated or provide results of a negative COVID-19 test from the past three days.
About 57% of the U.S. population has received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose and 49.3% are fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Coronavirus cases have surged in recent weeks, prompting the CDC to reverse course on its prior mask guidance. The public-health agency is now recommending fully vaccinated Americans in places with high COVID-19 infection rates start to wear face coverings indoors again.
Meyer said Union Square Hospitality Group employees will continue to wear face coverings in the kitchen. However, he said masks are not a panacea for diners. “You cannot eat or drink with a mask on,” he said. “The one thing you can do is be vaccinated.”
Asked how he would advise other corporate leaders on COVID-19 vaccine policy, Meyer said: “I think every business has to make its own decisions, and we’re proud of the one we’re making right now.”
The restaurateur said he was fortunate his company is based in New York City, where government leaders are supportive of strict vaccine requirements. He noted states such as Florida have passed laws that bar businesses and government entities from demanding proof of COVID-19 vaccination.
Some health experts believe vaccine mandates will become more commonplace once the Food and Drug Administration grants full approval. Currently, the drug regulator has cleared three COVID-19 vaccines on an emergency use basis. Pfizer and Moderna’s vaccine requires two shots for full immunity protection, and both companies have applied for full approval. Johnson & Johnson has not yet applied for its single-shot vaccine.
Biden said last week he thinks full FDA approval could arrive in the fall.
A version of this story first appeared on CNBC.com.