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CHICAGO — Monday donned a new era for restaurants, bars, and other service sectors as Chicago and Cook County now require COVID-19 vaccination proof for indoor venues.  

Business industries must now turn customers away who fail to show proof of the dosage. Unexpectedly, the move has drawn mixed reactions. But, as many customers woke up Monday morning attempting to make the best of the change, Chicago’s legendary Tavern on Rush helped with the process, posting signage of the new requirement.  

“We’ve been very involved in a lot of the discussions,” said Steven Hartenstein, chief operating officer and business development director for Tavern on Rush and all 17 Phil Stefani signature restaurants. Hartenstein also sits on the Illinois Restaurant Association Board.  

“The upside is as you walk in as a guest who has been vaccinated, you now know everyone else in the room is vaccinated,” Hartenstein said. “That’s a positive.” 

Hartenstein says workers who remain unvaccinated must get a weekly negative test. The restaurant offered tests before employees started their shift. Other vaccinated employees, Hartenstein says, also underwent testing.

“So it’s mandatory for anybody that’s not vaccinated to be tested and then people who are vaccinated if they want to get tested, they get tested,” Hartenstein said. “So we had probably two dozen people plus that got tested here this morning and thank God we are all negative.” 

Throughout the city and Cook County, in an effort to slow the spiking omicron variant, the same policy applies to all restaurants and bars. All customers dining in ages five and over must prove they are fully vaccinated. Those 16 and older must also show an ID. The same applies to entertainment, recreational venues and gyms. 

On the city’s Near West Side, one server says she’s a little uncomfortable about the policy at the Palace Grill but will adhere to the mandate. But that’s no bother to customer Joe Murdoch, who believes the order is a part of the new norm. 

“I believe this is a new way of life,” Murdoch said. “What we are going through is not going to change.” 

Back at Tavern on Rush, there is some concern that the proof policy will slow down business on a busy weekend night.  

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Hartenstein hopes a third-party reservation app they use called Open Table will soon allow customers to download their vaccine cards when making a reservation. He also asks people to be patient and not take out any frustrations on the servers or other employees. 

“We don’t want our staff to get beat up because they are following the law,” Hartenstein said. “What we can’t do is we can’t go back to partial occupancy because we will be laying off employees left and right and we just can’t do it.”