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Omicron spurs some SF restaurants to require booster proof for indoor dining

City leaders are hoping the Omicron threat will not prompt a return to heavy-handed pandemic restrictions, but some local restaurateurs are responding to the latest COVID-19 variant with their own rules. Booster requirements are at the top of the list.

Outer Richmond restaurant Cassava announced in an Instagram post they will require proof of a vaccine booster for indoor dining starting Dec. 22 “due to the rise of the Omicron variant and rising case numbers.”

The restaurant said all of its staff have received a booster shot and it will contact guests with indoor table reservations to alert them of the policy.

Landmark San Francisco restaurant Zuni Café also announced it would follow suit and require a booster shot in order to dine indoors. 

In its own Instagram post, the 42-year old Mid-Market eatery announced that starting on Dec. 29 all guests dining indoors will need to provide proof of a COVID-19 booster if they are eligible to receive the jab.

Those ineligible to receive a booster—including those who got their previous vaccine dose within the past six months—will be required to present documentation for the vaccine they have received. Diners four years and younger, who are currently ineligible to be vaccinated, will be allowed to dine indoors with their party.

Among the Bay Area restaurant figures that cheered Zuni’s decision was Chez Panisse owner Alice Waters who commented on the post: “This is really important! Thank you for leading the way.”

Yuka Ioroi, the general manager and co-owner of Cassava, said she put up an Instagram poll that found a majority of her customers were supportive of a booster requirement. So far, Ioroi said that only one person has put up a fuss. 

“Everything is about lessening the chance that you could spread it,” Ioroi said, pointing to restaurant policies like double-masking for employees. “If we don’t get it then we don’t spread it and if we do then hopefully we can contain it.”

While there are still open questions about the virulency of Omicron, early research has shown a vaccine booster shot to be effective against the variant. A study from the University College London found that a booster shot provided about 85% protection against severe illness from Omicron, and more than 90% protection against death, 60 days after being administered.

In related news, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday that California healthcare workers will be required to have coronavirus booster shots and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has proposed what would be the first COVID-19 booster mandate for city employees.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association said that it is encouraging all eligible San Francisco residents to receive the booster shot as soon as possible, including restaurant employees, in order to help stem future potential closures and shutdowns.

“We recommend that restaurants require boosters of all employees as soon as possible,” the organization said in a statement. “We acknowledge that each restaurant has its own needs and reasons for establishing indoor dining policies that work best for them and we encourage customers to reach out prior to dining at their favorite restaurant to learn the restaurant’s policies.”

Concerns about the rising case counts due to the Omicron variant have led a number of restaurant and hospitality groups around the country to weigh new booster shot requirements. 

New York restaurateur Danny Meyer said on CNBC that his Union Square Hospitality Group will start requiring customers to show proof of a booster to dine indoors in the new year. He also said that employees and new hires must also receive a booster shot as soon as possible.

“At this point, the science has changed,” Meyer told CNBC. “What has been a little bit tougher has been watching this crushing wave of Omicron sweeping through New York City and certainly through the country.”

Kevin Truong can be reached at