In-N-Out burger has become the first restaurant in San Francisco to be temporarily closed for failing to enforce the city’s vaccine mandate. City officials made the move on 14 October after the burger chain said it won’t force staff to check that customers were fully vaccinated before allowing them to dine inside the restaurant.
Restaurants in San Francisco, as well as a number of US cities including New York and New Orleans, are legally required to make customers show proof of vaccination before dining indoors. Health officials in the city, who have been carrying out checks on restaurants, say they made numerous requests to In-N-Out to enforce these checks but have not seen improvement after weeks of spot checks.
This failure to comply led to the city’s department of public health (SFDPH) closing San Francisco’s only In-N-Out location, in Fisherman’s Wharf, a waterfront tourist market. The restaurant has since reopened for takeout but is still not able to offer indoor dining. SFDPH’s official Twitter account joked that restaurants might want to consider the name In-N-Outside.
In-N-Out has been bullish in its response to the ruling, admitting the restaurant was not turning away customers who didn’t show proof of vaccination. “We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government,” Arnie Wensinger, the company’s chief legal and business officer, said in a statement. “It is unreasonable, invasive and unsafe to force our restaurant associates to segregate customers into those who may be served and those who may not.”
Wesinger said enforcing the rule affected customer service but made clear that the company was taking a political, rather than merely practical stand. “We fiercely disagree with any government dictate that forces a private company to discriminate against customers who choose to patronize their business. This is clear governmental overreach and is intrusive, improper, and offensive,” he wrote.
The majority of In-N-Out’s other locations are in Texas, southern California and Utah, where there are no statewide mandates for restaurant customers – however, its branches in the city of Los Angeles, where a vaccine mandate for restaurant customers is expected to be signed into law by Mayor Eric Garcetti next month, may also fall foul of inspectors.
In-N-Out has gained a cult status unlike any other fast food restaurant – in part due to its cheap prices, fresh ingredients and “secret menu” of toppings that customers can order even though they are not advertised in stores. It has been name-checked in songs by Childish Gambino and Jaden Smith. Anthony Bourdain even called it “the only fast-food chain that I actually like”.
Its trendy status is quite separate from its conservative Christian owners. “John 3:16”, a reference to a Bible verse, is printed on many of its cups and wrappers. A number of the chain’s executives have made donations to the Republican party, including Mark Taylor, the COO, who has donated more than $15,000 to Donald Trump and the GOP since 2016.