Andrew and Briana Volk, owners of the Hunt and Alpine Club in Portland, have implemented a policy requiring that customers have proof of a COVID-19 vaccination to eat at their establishment. Credit: Kathleen Pierce / BDN

With the Delta variant spreading and COVID-19 cases on the rise, two Portland restaurants announce guests must now be vaccinated to dine inside.

The Portland Hunt & Alpine Club announced the new policy last Thursday.

“First and foremost is safety to our staff, to our family and our community,” said Andrew Volk, who owns the restaurant with his wife.

Right now, the vaccine is a ticket to get inside.

“With the clear kind of, how easy the Delta variant is traveling around, it seems like that’s the most responsible thing, from a safety perspective, to do,” Volk said.

When asked if it’s a difficult decision during peak tourism season, he said, “No, it’s not a hard choice at all.”

Volk said the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We’re absolutely welcome to people who are unvaccinated dining outdoors, where the CDC and science clearly shows that it’s safe.”

Little Giant in the city’s West End is implementing the same policy.

But their Saturday announcement on social media drew criticism, with some calling it “modern segregation,” “medical discrimination” and “absolutely disgusting.” One person even urged a boycott.

Owner Ian Malin declined an interview for the safety of staff, who he said did not set the policy.

He did tell CBS 13 that “Little Giant understands that there are reasons for not getting vaccinated and we look forward to being able to welcome everyone in the future.”

“It seems to be coming to a point where people want to make some decisions as it relates to their business,” said Greg Dugal with Hospitality Maine.

Dugal said they’re waiting on guidance from the National Restaurant Association about policies like these.

“I certainly agree with the fact that restaurants are at higher risk, but also people should be getting vaccinated,” he said. “That would certainly solve a lot of problems, but I know not everyone is.”

It’s not just Portland.

Union Square Hospitality Group, which operates several restaurants in New York City and Washington D.C., announced they’ll require all employees and guests to be vaccinated indoors starting next month.

In an interview on CBS This Morning, CEO Danny Meyer said they’ll be asking for proof.

“Keep in mind, when you dine in a restaurant you cannot wear a mask while you’re eating and drinking, and our staff members don’t have a choice but to serve you,” Meyer said.

Volk said for the moment, they are trusting guests to be honest about their vaccination status.

“We’re prepared to ask for proof, and expect that we probably will be in the coming weeks, depending where numbers go,” he said.