What the Vaccine Means for Restaurants

Since the early months of the pandemic, restaurant employees have been deemed “essential.” While most Americans were working from home, those in the foodservice industry have clocked into work, as usual, interacting with countless strangers and risking exposing themselves to coronavirus. Despite volunteering their safety for the sake of economic and cultural preservation, the rollout of the vaccine has failed to account for restaurant workers.

Restaurant worker Jaime Wilson writes in grubstreet, “This is nothing new, of course. Restaurant work has never truly been valued by the government or the general public. We are constantly viewed as unskilled and inferior, expected to tolerate society’s lowest while acting like our most gracious selves. A larger shift in this mentality will take much longer. But for now, I don’t want to be labeled as “essential” if I’m going to be treated as disposable.”

When Can Restaurant Workers Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

While the CDC included foodservice workers in the “other essential workers” category and recommended that they get early COVID-19 vaccinations, it is largely unclear when they might be able to receive a vaccine. Restaurant workers were placed after frontline essential workers and elderly Americans, in Group 1C, and the National Restaurant Association was unsuccessful in their attempt to lobby the CDC to place them in Group 1B.

It is important to note that the CDC provided only recommendations; decision making is ultimately left to states and cities. Most state and municipal governments have followed the CDC-sanctioned guidelines, however, there has been slight deviation, particularly as it relates to restaurant workers. Restaurant workers in New York State, select Arizona counties, Long Beach, CA, Washington, D.C., and Detroit, MI are now eligible for the vaccine, while those Chicago, IL, Colorado State, Massachusetts, Philadelphia, PA will be eligible in the coming weeks. Other locations have yet to announce a date for foodservice worker vaccine eligibility. However, it is expected that vaccine supply will soon outweigh demand, meaning that restaurant workers will not need to fight to be inoculated.

Skepticism Among Hospitality Workers

According to a survey conducted by the workforce technology company, Harri, approximately one third of restaurant, hotel, and other hospitality workers do not plan to be vaccinated. Of those hesitant to roll up their sleeves, 57% are worried about side effects, 46% are concerned about effectiveness, and 22% do not support vaccines. For restaurateurs hoping to inoculate their teams, this is not good news.

Vaccine Expected to Buoy Foodservice Industry

As more Americans receive coronavirus vaccines — including restaurant employees — it is expected that the restaurant industry will see a boost in revenue. However, the restaurant industry is expected to fully rebound to 2019 sales levels until around 2025, says Darren Tristano, CEO of foodservice consulting and research firm Foodservice results. Despite increased capacity and fewer operational handicaps, 2021 will still be a rough year. More than 110,000 restaurants have closed permanently, and many more have filed for bankruptcy. Even as vaccines are widely available, restaurants will continue to grapple with the devastating economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.