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Chef Eric Ripert on requiring proof of vaccinations: ‘It’s not an easy decision to take’

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Eric Ripert, Chef & Co-Owner of Le Bernardin, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss Le Bernardin’s requirement of proof of vaccination to dine indoors, the labor shortage, and outlook for the restaurant industry amid the rise in Covid-19 cases.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOPHOROUS: New York City has become the first city in the nation to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for workers and customers at indoor restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues. It's an executive order that takes effect August 16. But even before that executive order, the world-renowned chef Eric Ripert announced his award-winning New York City seafood restaurant, Le Bernadin, would require its customers and staff show proof of vaccination. We are delighted to have Chef Ripert with us right now. Chef, so good to see you.

Talk to us about how you came to this decision. Was this an easy decision for you and your team to require vaccinations? And also, how do you plan to enforce that vaccine requirement?

ALEXIS CHRISTOPHOROUS: So of course it's not an easy decision to take. First of all, we started to ask to our employees to be fully vaccinated to be able to work at Le Bernardin. And in the dining room, our employees wear masks. And now we ask our clients to basically show proof of vaccination as well if they want to dine at the restaurant. And we have been proactive, so we are starting tomorrow to make those ask. And we are calling our clients to make sure that they have time to let us know if they have the vaccine or not. And we are going to implement that at the door. Our maitre d' and the hostesses will ask people to show their vaccination card or a vaccination passport, and then they'll be able to dine with us.

- Yeah, Chef. This is actually something that you see happening quite a bit in Europe. In order for you to dine indoors, you have to provide that proof of vaccination. But here at home, we have seen a lot of people really balk at the idea that they need to show or prove that they have been vaccinated, especially as we've seen some of these vaccination rates stall in parts of the country right now. Are there are all concerns that some of the clients, some of the diners are not going to want to provide that proof of vaccination, or could perhaps, as we've seen in the case of some of the airlines, become loud or unruly when faced with these new regulations from the restaurant?

ERIC RIPERT: Well, what we've noticed since yesterday is that on the phone, our clients are actually very happy about our decision. They feel very comfortable to go to the dining room and have an experience. On social media, I had a bit of backlash. And I have some negative comments from many people on Instagram and Twitter. But again, when people are calling the reservation department or when we are confirming their reservations, the clients are pretty happy about that.

ALEXIS CHRISTOPHOROUS: I want to step away from the vaccination situation for a moment and talk to you about the labor shortage we keep hearing about in the restaurant industry. We actually had Wolfgang Puck on the show a few weeks ago, and he said his waitstaff-- I mean, they can make six figures a year. But he said even so, he was having a hard time finding workers. Eric, what has your experience been with finding workers?

ERIC RIPERT: So we have some difficulties finding workers. However, the dining room staff came back to Le Bernardin. They have very good compensation, very good salaries, exactly like the employees of Wolfgang Puck. And they all came back. So the team is fully staffed.

And then in the back of the house, in the kitchen and the people who are cleaning the restaurant and so on, we are looking aggressively to find some cooks and stewards. And it's not easy because it looks like many of them have left New York. Many of them have decided to go in other industries. So we are still in the process of looking. But because we are still closed for lunch and we will open only in mid-September, our team is for now OK. And I strongly believe that when the incentives at the end of August from the government will stop, we will start to find more and more people looking for jobs.

- You know, I'm curious to know what your outlook is right now of the restaurant industry, especially as we are seeing the delta variant surge. So we've now had the reintroduction of some of these masks mandates across different cities and states. Now you have to wear a mask again if you are indoors, even if you are vaccinated, which of course, I think, brings up the fears that we're going to start seeing some sort of lockdowns or restrictions coming out again on businesses like restaurants. Do you share those same fears and those same worries that perhaps the restaurant might end up being closed in a few months' time again?

ERIC RIPERT: Well, I believe that if we are proactive and if we are having a very strict protocol, which is being disciplined, washing our hands many times during the day, not having close contact with foreigners, wearing masks when inside, and asking for people to be vaccinated to go in restaurants, so indoors, I think that will prevent the lockdown again.

ALEXIS CHRISTOPHOROUS: So then I would have to imagine you are in full support of Mayor de Blasio and his new executive mandate on these vaccinations. You support him?

ERIC RIPERT: I support the decision of the mayor on that aspect, for sure.

ALEXIS CHRISTOPHOROUS: All right. Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of the three-Michelin-starred Bernardin in New York City, thanks so much for being with us. Best of luck with the reopening.