It started as a simple request that is now part of New York’s pandemic routine: A hostess at a popular Italian restaurant on Manhattan’s Upper West Side asked three potential customers for proof that they had been vaccinated as required for those looking to dine inside.
But the encounter quickly escalated as customers, women from Texas, became enraged and refused to provide the necessary evidence to enter the restaurant, Carmine’s, police and a restaurant spokesperson said. The hostess offered to sit them outside, where such proof is not required.
âIt just started from there,â said Jeffrey Bank, managing director of Alicart Restaurant Group, owner of Carmine’s.
Tourists started beating the hostess, who is 24, leaving her bruised and scratched and breaking her collar. She was assessed in a hospital and is now resting at home, Bank said.
“It is obviously overwhelming,” he added. “She knows she hasn’t done anything wrong.”
Restaurants in New York City are wondering how best to meet the new mandate, which requires people to prove they have received at least one dose of a vaccine against the virus before dining inside and who has started to be applied on Monday.
Most of the burden of law enforcement falls on restaurant employees, especially front desk staff who are usually the first to interact with customers.
âWe have to play these cops,â said Adam Keita, an owner of Daughter, a cafe in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn. âOur goal is to serve people coffee. Our goal is not to tell people how to live their lives.
The tourists involved in the episode at Carmine’s house were identified by police as Kaeita Nkeenge Rankin, 44, and Tyonnie Keshay Rankin, 21, of Humble, Texas, and Sally Rechelle Lewis, 49, of Houston. They were arrested and charged with assault and criminal mischief before being ticketed to appear and returning to court on October 5.
On Friday evening, a lawyer representing the women issued a press release in which he said they all had proof of vaccination which had been “arbitrarily and unjustifiably questioned” because they were black and they had not attempted to “forcefully violate” the requirement they show. to enter the restaurant.
Lawyer Justin Moore also said the hostess was injured when other Carmine employees restrained her after she took offense at being “called out on racial discrimination grounds.”
Mr. Bank has denied Mr. Moore’s claims.
“The facts will not confirm it,” he said.
The altercation came as Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to push New Yorkers to get vaccinated, using a mix of warrants and incentives. The city has imposed several sweeping vaccine requirements this summer, including for healthcare workers and government employees.
The strategies seem to be working. In an appearance on WNYC Radio on Friday, Mr de Blasio said 80% of adults in the city and almost 70% of 12 to 17 year olds had received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Last month, New York City became the first U.S. city to require customers to prove they had received at least one dose of the vaccine before participating in indoor meals and activities such as shows, gymnasiums and cinemas. Fines from $ 1,000 for companies that do not carry out the mandate, the penalties increasing in the event of a repeat offense.
Several city agencies are responsible for verifying that the policy is enforced, including the consumer and health departments and the sheriff’s office. As of Friday, the city had carried out 5,440 inspections and issued 2,176 warnings, said Mitch Schwartz, spokesman for Mr. de Blasio. No fine had been imposed.
âThis disgusting and violent behavior has no place in New York City, and it is completely unacceptable against service workers who provide security for staff and clients,â Schwartz said in a statement. âThe city has provided restaurants with conflict resolution training over the past few weeks, and we will continue to do our utmost to help them adjust to this program safely and smoothly. “
REPAIR NYC, a city-wide initiative that offers free mediation and dispute resolution services, created a video to teach business owners and workers about de-escalation techniques to use when enforcing the warrant .
The video, uploaded to youtube last month and also available on the city ââwebsite, is a 20-minute narrated slide show with tips to help workers identify the signs of aggressive behavior and to help them communicate and empathize with customers. He had less than 3,000 views on Friday.
Catering workers said in interviews they felt they had been unfairly burdened with the burden of law enforcement and forced, rather than the city, to become the front line defense.
Manuel Roque, a line cook who works at restaurants in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg and Greenpoint neighborhoods, said he was frequently dispatched from the kitchen to ease tensions with customers and did not feel equipped to do so. in the face of conflicts related to the mandate. The city, he said, had not provided enough formal training on how to deal with such situations.
âYou don’t pay me to be a bouncer,â Mr. Roque said. âNow restaurant workers have to face hungry and angry people and do extra work, and we’re not getting paid for it. “
Mr Roque said he had several friends in the restaurant industry who had recently been beaten by customers, including a bartender who was assaulted while asking for proof of vaccination.
Mr Keita of Daughter, who said he had not witnessed violent explosions during the tenure, asked his staff to ask for proof of vaccination in a soft tone or at a slow pace so that customers are not offended.
But he said he was concerned that when the winter cold arrives and narrows options for al fresco dining, businesses will start losing customers again when they have to refuse service to unvaccinated people.
âWill the city also be there to support us financially when we have to turn away clients because of the mandate? he said. “If you ask us to do the dirty work, are you going to be there for us?” “
Sean McCloskey, general manager of de Mole, a Mexican restaurant in Williamsburg, said city officials had left restaurants alone to develop enforcement plans.
In light of the altercation at Carmine’s, Mr McCloskey said he plans to spend time with his employees on Friday night going through restaurant protocol for dealing with customers who refused to show proof of vaccination. But, he added, the city should have offered more advice.
âThey put all the responsibility on the property and the people who run the restaurants,â he said.
Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a business group representing restaurants and bars, acknowledged that the city had offered training to enforce the mandate, such as the video on de-escalation techniques, which was included in some of the city’s business emails. The city also co-hosted briefings with its organization, he added.
But he believes the city needs to do more to educate tourists and locals alike about the vaccination requirement, and send a clear message that anyone assaulting workers for implementing the policy will be prosecuted.
âRegardless of a person’s opinion on vaccine requirements, respect the restaurant workers,â said Rigie. “They are just trying to make a living and do their job.”
There will likely be plenty of tourists who won’t object to New York’s vaccine proof warrant. Sue Cole, who plans to visit the city from Mexico this Christmas, is one of them.
Interviewed on Friday, Cole said the requirement would help calm her mind when she’s on the move, especially since she expects to attend crowded Broadway shows like “The Lion King.”
âEverything to stop this stupid virus,â she said. “I’m so behind this.”
Dana rubinstein contributed reports.