Large restaurant groups in Arizona are considering how to approach COVID-19 safety practices following an announcement made by President Joe Biden on Sept. 9 that outlined a new “action plan.”
The plan mandates that all employers with 100 or more workers must require COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly testing. Also included in the plan are vaccination requirements for all federal workers, contractors who work for the federal government, health care workers and employees of federal education programs.
The president’s plan requires companies to provide paid time off for employees to get vaccinated.
It is unclear exactly when the plan will take effect, but once it does, companies that are not in compliance could face fines of up to nearly $14,000 per violation, CNN reports.
For metro Phoenix’s hospitality industry, this mandate likely will impact large restaurant groups like Upward Projects, which owns Postino, Joyride Tacos and Federal Pizza, and Fox Restaurant Concepts, a Phoenix-based national company that owns Culinary Dropout, Flower Child and Zinburger, in addition to groups like Hula’s and Mastros.
Fox Restaurant Concepts did not respond to The Republic’s request for comment.
Genuine Concepts, a group that owns The Vig, Ladera, The Little Woody, and a few other bars and restaurants, has taken a cautious approach to reopening throughout the pandemic.
Cesar Cramton, director of operations for the group, says they are well equipped to implement the president’s new requirements.
“It’ll make it more seamless for us because we did have that forward-thinking approach when we did reopen and put these systems in place,” he says.
How has Genuine handled safety so far?
When Genuine Concepts restaurants reopened after government mandated closures early in the pandemic, they did so cautiously, Cramton says. Employees were given the choice of when to return to work. They were also required to get tested for COVID-19 weekly.
When vaccines became available, Genuine Concepts held a vaccination event at Ladera Taverna y Cocina and encouraged all employees to get their shot. At the event, which took place in early April 2021, about 400 doses of the vaccine were administered, Cramton says.
Not all of these shots were given to Genuine employees, as the team extended invitations to other local restaurant and bar employees. However, a large percentage of Genuine’s employees were vaccinated at the event.
Throughout the group’s 10 concepts, nine of which are in the Valley and one in Flagstaff, the company had nearly 500 employees prior to the pandemic, Cramton says. They are now back up to about 400.
“It was worth it for us to use those hourly resources to manage that process because we want the corner to turn here soon. Fingers crossed, there will be no more variants and we’ll be able to get back to a new normal.”
Two weeks after the vaccination event, Genuine stopped its weekly testing requirement and relaxed its employee mask mandate, Cramton says.
Now, due to the spread of the delta variant and uptick in infection rates in the state, all Genuine employees are required to wear a mask once again.
“It’s important because if we protect our employees, then it protects their families, our customers and their families, the vendors that go on site to our places and their families,” Cramton says.
Does Biden’s plan change anything for Genuine?
Because of the cautious approach the company has taken throughout the pandemic, Cramton says the president’s announcement won’t change a lot for Genuine Concepts.
The company still has many safety measures in place that go above and beyond state or federal requirements.
“Minus the weekly testing, currently every other protocol is still in place, the enhanced cleaning, the face masks, we still have Plexiglas partitions up in our restaurants, we are still doing single-use menus. All of those are still in place,” he says.
Testing and keeping track of the vaccination status of around 400 employees is no small task, but Cramton says Genuine is ready. While the weekly testing program is currently paused, having the system already in place will make it easily to reinstate, he says. The White House has not yet explained when the new rules will go into effect and Genuine has not yet set a date to restart testing.
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