Things were going better than Muddy Waters barista Piper Mamis had expected on the afternoon of December 3.
It was the first day of Burlington’s new citywide indoor mask mandate, which passed unanimously during the city council’s December 1 meeting.
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Prompted by record Vermont coronavirus case counts, the policy requires that people wear masks in many public buildings. It allows for a few exceptions, including for food and beverage establishments that “actively screen and limit entry to those providing proof of vaccination for COVID-19.”
Muddy Waters is among the Queen City restaurants and bars newly requiring proof of vaccination for customers who stay on-site to eat or drink.
For hospitality sector workers like Mamis, the ordinance may reduce health risks, but it also brings a potentially adversarial edge to every customer interaction.
Mamis said she was pleasantly surprised two hours into her first shift under the new policy.
As indicated on signs at the front door and at the ordering counter, Muddy Waters now requires masking by all customers until they show proof of vaccination, and it requires proof of vaccination for customers who stay to dine — or drink — in.
“People have been more respectful than I thought, offering their [vaccination] cards before we even ask,” she said. One customer who didn’t have his vaccination card with him took his drink to-go instead. “It’s been a lot easier than I thought,” Mamis said.
The coffee shop’s co-owner Sam Tolstoi is also an owner of Manhattan Pizza & Pub, a block down Main Street, where vaccination has been required of customers for the last several months, he said in a phone call Friday afternoon.
Overall, that has gone well, Tolstoi said, with many customers expressing appreciation for the additional safety measure. “I would say one in 100 people comes in and says, ‘You’re fucking kidding me!’ … and walks out the door,” he said.
The Muddy Waters owners held off on a similar requirement until the new city mask mandate. “It’s a little tougher in a to-go coffee shop setting,” Tolstoi said. “It does put our employees in a position that we don’t want to put them in, but we don’t really see another choice … This [pandemic] is not going away anytime soon, in my opinion. We just need to make it as safe as we can possibly make it.”
Mamis and fellow barista Billy Weaver agreed that the college students, who comprise the majority of Muddy Waters’ clientele, have made the task easier because they are accustomed to masking and showing proof of vaccination.
Nicholas Bulman and Rebecca Brady, both of Burlington, were among those ordering drinks on December 3. Bulman said he had heard a little about the new city policy, but it wasn’t a big deal for him. “We always wear masks,” he said.
Regarding the possibility that a customer without proof of vaccination might take a drink to go but then stay, Weaver acknowledged, “We’re not policing the café.”
That said, Weaver added, staff members do walk through the café regularly to pick up dishes. If he saw someone he thought had not shown a vaccination card, Weaver said, “I would feel comfortable saying, ‘Hey, sorry, can I just grab a look at your vax card?'”
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