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Business leaders networking at the Peach 20/20 Conference  

01 Jul 2021

How radical is Danny Meyer?

Peter Martin
Danny Meyer is a hero of the global restaurant industry, never afraid to be radical or provocative – as he showed when interviewed on last year’s Peach 20/20 virtual conference.

But the decision of the legendary New York entrepreneur to require indoor diners and drinkers at his Union Square Hospitality Group establishments to show they have been vaccinated against Covid will divide opinion both sides of the Atlantic.

The mandate will also apply to current employees and new hires.

In the UK, the debate in the hospitality sector around vaccination has largely been focussed on the need for passports for large venues, whether they are infringement of personal freedom and whether the Government is right to consider them.

This will fuel the debate – and not just on jabs, but on mask wearing and testing too. Although the loudest chorus, particularly on social media, has largely been against compulsion, it’s clear that on the ground views are more mixed and mask-wearing, which we can all see, still prevalent in many hospitality locations, especially hotels.

The announcement, which Meyer made on CNBC TV yesterday, comes as concern around the delta variant increases in the US, and officials try to combat Covid vaccine hesitancy and resistance among some Americans.

But Meyer made the important point that it should be an individual business decision. Asked how he would advise other corporate leaders on vaccine policy, he said: “I think every business has to make its own decisions, and we’re proud of the one we’re making right now.”

“This is the most logical thing I’ve ever seen,” he 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.”

At Union Square Hospitality Group, which has a large presence in New York City, including Gramercy Tavern, Manhatta, and Union Square Café, the vast majority of workers are already vaccinated, adding the company offered eight hours of pay per Covid shot, Meyer said.

“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.

Meyer is also founder and chairman of the fast casual Shake Shack brand, and said that company would set its own policy regarding vaccines.

Although, Meyer’s business may be the most high profile operator in hospitality to take such a strong stance, major corporations in other fields, like Facebook and Google, have already taken a hard-line on vaccine requirements for staff, as the fully-vaccinated rate in the US still hovers below 50%.

Ultimately, how comfortable both customers and staff feel about policies on vaccination, masks and test certification will dictate how popular and effective they turn out to be – wherever they are. One thing is sure though, Danny Meyer remains a person not afraid to lead, whether you think him radical or not.

A version of this article was first publish in MCA in July, 2021

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