December 5, 2023
Business Food & Drink News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: Vaccine certs aren’t much use if nobody looks at them

Before the second announcement, publicans and people who run nightclubs were queing up to criticise the Government’s plans for the re-opening of their businesses – or further opening, in the case of pubs.

The publicans were complaining because they had to seat customers at tables before serving them and the nightclub owners were complaining for no reason at all that I could follow, except that everybody else was doing it.

The Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) said the ban on standing at the bar was “a devastating blow”.

When the rule was amended so that only drinking at the bar was banned, Padraig Cribben, the VFI chief executive, said the new regulation had created “a farcical situation”.

The VFI should consider the beam in its own eye before moaning about the mote in the Government’s.

Vaccine certificates are crucial to the further opening of entertainment and hospitality but many pubs have not been checking them while others have been making the checks in a cursory fashion that is next to useless. The same goes for some cafés and restaurants.

An RTÉ survey found that one-in-three premises was not making the checks. My own observation has convinced me that the figure is even higher.

When vaccine certificates were first issued, bar and restaurant owners were diligent about demanding them before admission, but the high standard was soon dropped.

That’s what everyone was saying and four weeks ago I decided to put it to the test.  Since then, I have kept a note of the reception I received at every bar, restaurant and café I visited. To widen the sample, I called at these places more frequently than usual, nipping in for coffee or a drink, for  breakfast, lunch or dinner.

It’s  a hard old job, I know, but somebody has to do it.

I called at 10 different pubs. In four of them, staff  made no reference at all to a vaccine certificate but simply showed me to a table. Only two of the pubs scanned my cert. The other four just looked at it – so I could have been showing them anyone’s certificate – and only one took my phone number.

Restaurants seemed a little more diligent. My sample was smaller: two out of six scanned the cert, two looked at it but didn’t scan it, one took my word that I had one and the sixth made no mention of a cert, although they consulted a screen to confirm my table reservation.

Cafés and coffee shops were the most casual. I sat in 16 across the four weeks. Only four scanned my certificate. Another four just looked at it. Five of them took my word for it and did not insist on seeing a certificate even when I asked if one was needed. Three just waved me to a table.

I really should have left the premises that did not ask for a certificate. There wouldn’t have been muich eating or drinking had I done so, but it is the right response and I will take it from now on.

Publicans and caterers have had a tough time in the past two years but it is hard to have sympathy with them on this certificate issue, particularly with publicans who are making such a fuss about the restrictions still faced by their trade.

Obviously my survey was not scientific or very wide-ranging. But, for me, it confirmed the widespread impression that the hospitality business has not been taking this issue seriously.

In one coffee shop I asked if I needed to show a vaccine certificate. The man at the counter looked puzzled. “Ah it’s all right,” he said. “You’ll be fine.”

I sincerely hope so. I hope we will all be fine and that we will get through this latest twist in the Covid story with our public health and our hospital service largely intact. To do so, we need co-operation from everyone, including those on both sides of the bar, at which, for the moment, we are not allowed to drink.


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