COVID-19 vaccine requirements are on the rise.
Major cities — including New York City, New Orleans, San Francisco and Los Angeles — now require proof of vaccination to dine indoors, but the new mandates have raised questions about how restaurants can accurately ensure their diners are, in fact, vaccinated.
Reservations app OpenTable hopes to streamline that process through a new partnership with Clear, the identity verification platform typically seen at airports. Although the partnership won’t include Clear’s famous eye-scanning technology, it will allow users to create a free digital vaccine card to prove their vaccination status.
“The whole motivation here is to allow restaurants to do things the easy way,” OpenTable President and CTO Joseph Essas told Yahoo Finance.
Essas said diners using the app won’t have to worry about bringing a physical copy of their CDC vaccine card to the restaurant.
The integration, expected to launch in September, comes on the heels of a number of new safety features OpenTable has launched amid the pandemic.
Restaurants can now tag diners as “Verified for Entry” once requirements are met, in addition to listing “Proof of Vaccination” as a safety precaution on their profiles and communicating directly with diners through direct messaging.
As of Wednesday, 450 restaurants on OpenTable require proof of vaccination. OpenTable says it hosts over 60,000 restaurants, bars, and eateries on the platform, but it is already seeing “hundreds of restaurants” opt in to the new features.
“Some of it is a reflection of mandates,” Essas said, adding that restaurants in vaccine-mandated cities like New York and San Francisco are more eager to participate.
For diners, it means “the expectation is set that I have to show the vaccination record, and there’s no kind of unpleasant surprises as you walk in,” he said.
Questions loom as new mandates take effect
In a new OpenTable poll, which surveyed 20,000 diners, 72% of respondents said they’re “very willing” to dine at a restaurant that requires proof of vaccination or consider that requirement “a must.”
Those results differ sharply from a recent Yahoo Finance Twitter poll where over 31,000 users responded to the question, “Would you avoid going to a restaurant if proof of COVID-19 vaccination is required for entry?” More than 80% of respondents answered “yes,” while nearly 20% responded “no.”
Overall, restaurant demand has been decreasing compared to the positive numbers last seen in May.
Seated diners in the U.S. are down 11% in August compared with July, according to the latest OpenTable data, with dining demand in the U.S. dropping about 1% in the past week alone.
“In some cities, there’s definitely somewhat of a drop in demand,” Essas said. “In other cities, there’s not as much — hard to say if it’s related to these new mandates or not.” Other factors like bad weather on the East Coast could have led to the recent dips.
“We’ll watch [the data] carefully, and we’ll know in the following weeks what’s working and what’s not working,” said Essas.
Security top of mind
OpenTable says it will not store personal health information or vaccination card data, but recent data hacks of a number of COVID-19 contact-tracing apps and vaccine portals have worried consumers — and even the White House.
“Clear is a company that is the true expert in identity, security and connecting secure information to your identity,” Essas said when asked how the company plans to keep users’ health data secure.
“[OpenTable] does not want to store health sensitive information…so all of this viewer health information is being stored on the Clear side,” he added.
Alexandra is a Producer & Entertainment Correspondent at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193