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Can restaurants operate on an honor system when it comes to proof of vaccine?

Posted at 5:42 PM, May 19, 2021

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WKBW) — New York restaurants are facing a new set of guidelines, where the state said vaccinated individuals, with proof of vaccine, can dine at full capacity with no masks. Unvaccinated individuals must sit in a socially distanced section with masks.

The state said if a restaurant does not check for vaccine proof, then six feet of social distancing is required. But some restaurant owners said they will not be checking for proof.

"We have an honor system here at The Bayou. If you're vaccinated, cool. If you're not, cool. We're not going to ask you. It's not a policy," Michael Rottger, the owner of The Bayou in Cheektowaga, said.

The Bayou in Cheektowaga had been open for three days before the COVID-19 pandemic shut it down.

"We were getting so low on money and it was such a hardship to keep this place going. I decided to sleep here on the floor and open breakfast by myself and cook, serve, take phone calls," Rottger said.

Rottger said because of COVID restrictions, he almost had to permanently close three times.

"I've paid my staff out of my own pocket. Money that I've saved is now gone. Anything that I did have is now gone. I've had to use my parents money to keep this place going," Rottger said.

Rottger said The Bayou will operate at full capacity with no mask requirement under the honor system.

"It's time to open. My business has suffered since day one. I haven't even had a chance to open my doors fully and see what The Bayou's about," Rottger said.

Attorney Corey Hogan said restaurants can operate at full capacity with no mask requirement under the honor system.

"I don't think any private business has any requirement to proof for an Excelsior pass or any other proof of vaccine," Hogan said, "I would be inclined to do one of two things. I would either ask people and take their word for it or I would put a very noticeable sign up and say we're basically on the honor system here. If you've been vaccinated, you're not required to wear a mask and you're not required to social distance."

Hogan said there is no way to enforce these guidelines.

"I don't think the SLA, the State Liquor Authority, or the health department would have the right to go into a restaurant and start proofing people," Hogan said.