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A small but growing number of bars and restaurants in San Francisco, on the recommendation of the SF Bar Owner Alliance, have begun to require proof of vaccination before putting diners in. These bar owners and managers say they expected most of their regulars to gleefully show their cards – after all, this is San Francisco where 84 percent of the population have had at least one injection over the age of 12. These bar owners also expected the occasional belligerent bar-hopper to forget a card at home. But now, in an unfortunate but predictable turn of events, two bars and a deli are hit with one-star Yelp reviews and direct messages on Instagram related to their new COVID guidelines.
The Alembic craft cocktail bar on the Haight was one of the first establishments in San Francisco to implement a vaccination policy. The alembic reopened for indoor drinking on June 15, and at the same time decided to ask drinkers to provide proof of vaccination if they wanted to sit indoors. If the drinkers didn’t have their card with them, the staff accepted a photo. When drinkers refused to share evidence, staff still offered to place it outside in the bar’s parklet. Owner Christin Evans says she spread the news around the neighborhood so regulars wouldn’t be surprised, and the response was „only positive”.
At least that was the case until early July when the restaurant started receiving one-star Yelp reviews, which has now reached 8 overall, despite some from the same users. The first was from a yelper who did not mention the visit to the bar, only the proof of the vaccination policy and wrote: „The owners are now parents from Nazi Germany.” Evans said she reported this review and Yelp deleted it within an hour. But the Yelper posted again, complaining that her post had been removed, calling the new policy „medical artheid”. (Some anti-Vaxxers have compared their experiences with the Holocaust and claim that they are marginalized and discriminated against, which many other people believe to be a gross appropriation of Jewish pain and suffering.) A second yelper, who mentioned his experience of visiting the bar, said the bar was „discriminatory based on medical history”. Evans kept reporting these reviews, but both yelpers kept posting.
The first yelper also gave one-star ratings to other bars and clubs in SF, including Vesuvio Cafe, the bohemian enclave in North Beach. Vesuvio began asking for proof of vaccination on July 20th, and that same day was featured in a story of SFGate. Owner Janet Clyde says even tourists understood; A young man sent a text message to his mother abroad to send a photo of his card, which the bar happily accepted. In the past week, Vesuvio received 11 one-star ratings; several don’t mention visiting the bar just the guidelines and using anti-Semitic language. Clyde says she hasn’t had time to report reviews as she is focused on reopening her business despite other users as about half have been removed for violating Yelp’s Terms of Service.
„We don’t respond to internet troll reviews …” says Clyde. “Our policy is our policy. It’s there to protect our employees and families as well as our guests. This policy is not debatable. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to come. A gin and tonic is not as important as a person’s health. „
Vegan Picnic on Polk Street is supposed to deal not only with one-star reviews on Yelp, but also with direct messages on Instagram. The plant-based neighborhood deli announced their vaccination records with an Instagram post and story on July 26th, and even sweetened the deal for fully vaccinated customers by giving them a gluten-free brownie and gold star, the kind of sticker, for the first week , offered the teachers to give to kindergarten children who do a good job. In two days, the vegan deli received 15 one-star reviews from Yelpers, who are said to be based anywhere from Vegas to Pittsburg. One review took up the gold star in particular and equated it with the star of David.
At the time of publication, the Vegan Picnic Yelp page displays a banner that reads, “This store is being monitored for media-related content by the Yelp support team,” and a pop-up notification that reads, “This store recently received increased exposure get attention, which often means people come to this page to post their views on the news. ”So no one can rate now, and those who want to write about their firsthand experience of the business will have to come back later. Additionally, Vegan Picnic Pears has disabled comments on Instagram, taking screenshots and sharing direct messages they received and the users who blocked them.
This recent spate of negative reviews is reminiscent of an earlier stage in the pandemic when Yelpers went to SF restaurants to enforce mask policies. One difference is that masking was mandatory as mandated by the city at the time, while this new wave of vaccination records is voluntary, with individual bars and restaurants setting their own guidelines. In the East Bay, Eli’s Mile High Club and Palmetto and the Kon-Tiki in Oakland have also reported similar patterns: an initial outbreak of outrage that then settles back into business, like this Berkeleyside. But internet trolls can be another consideration as more restaurants and bars consider showing compulsory vaccination.
In addition to owning the Alembic, Christin Evans owns the Booksmith bookstore and says she always respects freedom of expression. Evans believes the customer has a right not to endorse a bar with policies they may not agree with, and as the owner, she respects that. But when it comes to publicly complaining on Yelp, how much does a public negative review affect a small business? Both Evans and Clyde said they seriously consider feedback when a review is based on an experience in their bars. But when a yelper from across the country argues a policy, they find it unfair.
„I have the right to pressure Yelp to say that these are unreasonable reviews from people who have not received any service from my company,” said Evans. “Why should my company be punished? Judge us by the merits of our cocktails, judge us by the merits of our food, don’t judge us by our health and safety protocols. ”