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Danny Meyer says his Union Square Hospitality Group will require all indoor diners and employees to prove they received the COVID-19 vaccine.
The chief executive officer of USHG, 63, made the announcement Thursday on CNBC's "Squawk Box" as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise across the United States due to the Delta variant.
The policy will impact Meyer's restaurants Gramercy Tavern, Blue Smoke, Union Square Cafe and more. Though he added that Shake Shack "will make the appropriate decision for them at the appropriate time" separately from USHG.
"This is the most logical thing I've ever seen," Meyer told Andrew Ross Sorkin of the decision. "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."
In fact, Meyer believes requiring proof of vaccination will actually encourage more people to dine with USHG, not less.
"I think that the vast majority of people that dine out, especially indoors, don't want to see us go back to how things were where we had either no opportunity to serve people indoors, or last September for the first time, we could serve 25% capacity," Meyer told Sorkin. "That is so yesterday. We know right now that the vaccine works and it's time to make sure this economy moves forward. There's just no going back."
The USHG is among the first major companies to require proof of vaccination for indoor access. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, less than half of the U.S. populace (49.3%) is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Like most eateries in the country, USHG restaurants are short-staffed. Meyer said this was a cause for concern when assessing the potential viability of the new policy as vaccine hesitancy continues.
"If there was one aspect that really gave us pause, it was, in a time when it's tough to find enough people that are talented enough in the world of hospitality to work. Why would you make it even tougher?"
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Still, Meyer is confident the gamble will pay off: "I'm making a bet that there's a huge number of employees that would rather come into a workforce when they know that they will be completely safe."
Employees have 45 days to decide whether or not to get vaccinated. Meyer said the company has offered workers eight hours of pay to simply get their shot on top of "various" other resources over the last 150 days.
"Hopefully, this will be the incentive that really makes them say, 'Now I'm going to do it,'" Meyer told Sorkin.
Meyer said the USHG is "proud" of the decision they've made and the support they have received from local lawmakers. While this is not the case in all areas of the country, the Shake Shack founder hopes to set an example for both companies and governments nationwide.
"We feel like we've got an amazing responsibility to keep our staff members and our guests safe, and that's what we're going to do," he said.