You have to prove you’ve been fully vaccinated.
It wasn’t really a surprise. At dinner the other day for my son’s birthday, a couple came into the restaurant, she was wearing a mask and he wasn’t.
The hostess asked him politely if he needed a mask and he showed it to her in his hand and she again politely told him he had to put it on to take a seat. He scowled and reluctantly put it on so they could go up the 20 steps to their table to eat.
There will always be someone – usually a man (be better gentlemen) – but these incidents seem to be handled without major tantrums.
Then there are the calls bordering on Mark Alston, the owner of Salt Lake City’s popular Bayou restaurant – one of my favorite restaurants with a great jambalaya.
It didn’t work out for Alston just needing masks – and he’s right. How much sense does it make for guests to wear a mask at the table, then take it off for the next hour while they eat and drink and talk, and then put it back on to leave?
“It’s theater,” he said. “It’s no fuss when everyone has their vaccine.”
If the bayou reopens on Wednesday, it may be the only company in the state that requires customers to show proof of vaccination and dine at the facility two weeks before the final shot.
That way, Alston said, he can follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and allow fully vaccinated people to avoid wearing masks and removal. (He said that reasonable accommodation is in place for people with disabilities to prevent them from being vaccinated).
The new politics of bayou quickly spread on social media and the response from right-wing anti-Vax groups has been severe.
“These guys freaked out and were literally outraged and insane,” Alston told me. “They suggested all sorts of violent things, wishing us and everyone we know dead, and wanting us to fail miserably.”
One caller accused Alston of “a pedophile beer cult” – and made him the new Comet Ping-Pong, the pizzeria in Washington, DC, where QAnon conspirators believed Hillary Clinton and Democrats had a sex-trafficking ring in the basement operated with children – and then went on a tangent about how soy made people gay.
However, since that first angry wave, the pendulum has swung back, Alston said. The calls over the past few days have been overwhelmingly supportive. People who were uncomfortable eating inside thanked him for the opportunity to eat and drink in the safest environment.
In fact, so many people called that Alston said he had to tell people not to come the first few nights they were open – there just won’t be a seat for everyone.
The staff had expressly returned due to the guidelines, and some who had left the prepandemic behind had also returned to work.
Michele Corigliano, executive director of the Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association, said she was unaware of any other establishment in the valley that took a bayous approach. Most of them still need masks for employees and customers, even if this can vary depending on the location and customer group.
She said a restaurant owner at the southern end of the valley told her that around four out of five diners show up without a mask. Employees who are fully vaccinated are also not required to wear masks. The customers’ response, she said, was to thank the owner for not asking the waiters to put on masks.
There is even a crowd-sourced website where people can share which companies may or may not require customers to wear masks.
Alston said he wouldn’t necessarily recommend other companies to follow his example.
“I’ve never signed up to do things like everyone else does,” he said, “and I’m not going to judge how [other restaurants] do it too. “
But Alston said dealing with the barrage of anger and hatred – which he believes much comes from people who have never been to bayou and would never leave – has been thorough and extremely stressful.
It’s also a little ironic in the sense that it comes from the same segment of the population that was supposedly so strict for business.
When bayou politics made it onto the Utah Business Revival Facebook page, some hoped they would get out of business, called it socialism, claimed it was a compulsory vaccination, and even compared bayou’s treatment of anti-Vaxxers to it the treatment of Nazis by Jews.
Other commentators in the group got the point in their credit: They claimed they wanted companies to be free to respond to the pandemic as they wanted. That is exactly what bayou does, and they have the right to do so.
What if the anti-vaxxers don’t like it? If so, Alston said he would encourage her to do business elsewhere.
And I agree with that. More jambalaya for me.