In-N-Out Burger refuses to demand vaccine 'passports' in SF store, forced to close indoor dining

The first prominent company to stand up to vaccination passport bullying is In-N-Out Burger, which should surprise no one familiar with the company's history and culture.  More on that below, but first, according to Amanda Bartlett of SFGate:

The city's only In-N-Out location at 333 Jefferson Street in Fisherman's Wharf was closed by the San Francisco Department of Public Health last Thursday because employees "were not preventing the entry of Customers who were not carrying proper vaccination documentation," according to a statement from the burger chain. (snip)

Though the restaurant had posted signage informing customers of local guidelines — which requires people to show proof of vaccination before dining indoors since August, per the San Francisco Department of Public Health's Safer Return Together health order — In-N-Out's Chief Legal and Business Officer Arnie Wensinger said the restaurant should not have to enforce those policies. 

"After closing our restaurant, local regulators informed us that our restaurant Associates must actively intervene by demanding proof of vaccination and photo identification from every Customer, then act as enforcement personnel by barring entry for any Customers without the proper documentation," read a statement from Wensinger. 

"As a Company, In-N-Out Burger strongly believes in the highest form of customer service and to us that means serving all Customers who visit us and making all Customers feel welcome. We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government," he continued.

The city's health department took a hard line:

"The business was instructed to cease all operations on site immediately because of the threat it poses to public health," read a statement from the department, noting COVID-19 vaccinations are important for people gathering in public indoor settings, particularly when they are removing their masks to eat and drink, which can make it easier for the virus to spread. "Since the Notice of Closure was issued, the business has taken steps to comply and has since resumed operations for outdoor dining and take-out only."

The company has only one outlet in San Francisco, and it is a storefront with no drive-thru window, so I presume people must walk inside to order and wait to pick up their food and take it outside to eat.  It is located near Fisherman's Wharf, a tourist-heavy location with lots of foot traffic.


KRON-TV screen grab.

A backlash is already being organized by the usual suspects, such as follows:

But In-N-Out Burger is a company that is unafraid to march to its own drummer.  It isn't worried about shareholders protesting or selling their stock.  The company is 100% owned by Lynsi Snyder, referred to by employees as "the owner."  She is the only grandchild of Harry and Esther Snyder, who founded the company in 1948 as a burger stand "barely 10 feet square," invented a two-way speaker box enabling customers to order from their car, and slowly built other outlets, with a fanatical dedication to quality.  The company uses fresh meat only, bakes its own buns, and supplies stores from central warehouse facilities where quality controls are rigorously enforced.  At first, the company's stores were limited to Southern California, but it has gradually expanded and now has stores as far east as Texas.

Unless it has changed its policies in the last few years, the company does not hire MBAs, but promotes from within, meaning management started out at the counter and griddle and worked their way up.  This means that the company invests a lot in training its employees.  Store managers are rumored in the restaurant industry to make healthy six-figure incomes that are related to their stores' performance.  In-N-Out Burger pays its staff better than McDonald's and other fast-food rivals and seems to select friendly, outgoing people.  They can also be very selective about whom they hire because of high wages and prospects for promotion.

The Snyder family has evangelical religious roots, and since the 1980s has printed Bible verses discreetly on the bottoms of its cups:


Photo credit: Particle Man (public domain).

So it is not surprising to me that this company is willing to stand on principle and even endure a temporary store shutdown and risk a boycott.  The company enjoys a mystique that will endure.  This scene from the classic Coen Brothers movie The Big Lebowski comically riffs on the obsessive devotion of its customers, always on the lookout for a branch to stop at (language warning):

The quality of the food is miles ahead of the competition, and in the end, that's what matters.  I had one of their double-doubles for lunch yesterday and savored it all the more, knowing that this is a company standing up for my sovereignty over my own body and willing to stand up to bullies with their fake science.

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