The popular West Coast hamburger chain In-N-Out has come under scrutiny in recent weeks for its company policies regarding COVID-19 protocols. In-N-Out, which first opened in 1948 in Baldwin Park, Calif., had its only San Francisco location shut down temporarily last week for failure to check diners’ vaccination status.
The city of San Francisco began requiring vaccination proof in August for people to enter any indoor public spaces. Although the In-N-Out restaurant located in San Francisco posted signage explaining the city’s mandate, staff did not prevent customers from entering the restaurant if they failed to present vaccination proof.
In-N-Out Burger issued a statement on their policy regarding vaccine enforcement
In-N-Out remains a family-owned business, though it has grown from the first location opened in 1948 to include 334 locations by 2018. Founder Harry Snyder’s granddaughter Lynsi Snyder is the current company president and has served in that capacity since 2010.
"We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government,” Arnie Wensinger, Chief Legal and Business Officer for In-N-Out, said according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
In addition, Wensinger said the company believed it was unreasonable and invasive to be forced to segregate customers and deny service to anyone. “We fiercely disagree with any government dictate that forces a private company to discriminate against customers who choose to patronize their business,” he said via NPR.
According to the city’s public health department, In-N-Out had been notified and reminded of the city ordinance multiple times without changing its actions. "The vast majority of businesses have worked in partnership with the city to protect public health," the department noted according to the New York Times.
Some have been unsurprised at In-N-Out’s lax attitude about COVID-19 vaccines. That position seems logical given the numerous donations the company has made to the Republican Party, which has been vocal about vaccine overreach. For example, in 2018, a $25,000 donation to the California Republican Party resulted in calls to boycott the chain by Democrats of the state.
Is In-N-Out still closed in San Francisco?
The location was closed down on October 14 and has since reopened, but only for outdoor dining and takeout. As of October 20, NPR reported that health officials hadn’t heard from the company whether it intended to begin checking the vaccination status of patrons in order to reopen for indoor dining.
The owner of this particular In-N-Out property location, Anchorage Holdings LP, was issued a violation notice in addition to the restaurant being forced to close temporarily.
As NPR reported, city officials received a 311 complaint that resulted in a visit to the restaurant on September 24, with a follow-up on October 6. Both times, the restaurant was found to be out of compliance with local vaccine requirements. About a week later, the restaurant was presented with the order to close immediately “because of the threat it poses to public health.”
San Francisco’s health department has also stated that the In-N-Out will only be allowed to reopen for indoor dining if the company demonstrates a commitment to a clear process for checking vaccination status. It would also need to pass a health and safety check.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the company didn’t respond to questions of what its statement on vaccines would mean for its other locations, as an LA mandate is set to begin on November 8.