welcome to ask the eater, an Eater SF column where the site’s editors answer readers’ and friends’ tough questions about eating out. Have a question to ask us? Submit it via this form.
Question: Do I need to bring my vaccination card to different places in San Francisco if we go to a restaurant or a bar? Is a picture on my phone enough? I don’t know what the vibe is in SF, if you have any insight. I doubt my parents know, but I could ask them too.
Cousin Confused About Vax Cards
Hey confused cousin! What a good question. First of all, you are not alone. With family and friends coming over the holidays, many visitors may want to know what to expect with local restaurant rules. And two, to be honest, wouldn’t we all. As you cleverly noticed, San Francisco currently has both a vaccine mandate and a mask mandate. While it’s easy for restaurants to check if you have a face mask on, it’s more cumbersome to check if you’ve been vaccinated. So, despite months of practice, there is still not exactly a better way to show proof of the vaccine. But here is the recap of how many restaurants and restaurants have managed it so far.
According to the official mandate of the SF Department of Public Health, valid forms of vaccine verification include:
- A CDC vaccine card, a copy of this vaccine card, or an electronic photo of this vaccine card.
- A digital vaccination record from the State of California, or as issued by another state or local or foreign government.
- A digital vaccination record from certain approved private companies – more information on applications below.
The vast majority of diners seem to be showing cards or pictures of their cards, and that’s about fifty percent of people carrying physical cards or scrolling through pictures, confirms general manager Dennis Leung of popular dim sum spot Palette Tea House. Carrying the physical board is arguably the quickest and easiest way to the host booth; but just like a passport, you wouldn’t want to lose it or damage it, and it’s not coated and won’t fit in every wallet, so it’s risky to carry around. Some smart people have made a physical copy and laminated it, so if you have a crafty friend, it’s a pro shot.
Taking a photo is safer, even if it involves the most scrolling to swipe in your phone, tap Camera Roll, tap Albums, tap Favorites and scroll to pull it up. If you, like this writer, tend to live with 20% battery or less, it can make the evening even more exciting. According to a Recovery Room bartender at Excelsior, one regular actually changes her phone background to an image of her card when she goes out, so she doesn’t even have to unlock her screen. What a legend.
Fewer people appear to be using the state website or third-party apps, with only about 10% of diners entering Palette, Leung estimates. The State of California website is an official option; you can click through to the site, answer a few questions, and the state will text or email you a digital recording, which you can capture or download. Some restaurants have posted QR codes on the host’s stand to get you to the site faster, and it’s pretty quick, provided you have a good internet connection (we heard of one restaurant that has had to stand in the center of the road to get the front desk before having a beer at Woods in the Outer Sunset). But again, for repeated use, it may lead to scrolling through images or browsing through downloads. And you can’t use it if your records aren’t with the state of California, though restaurants must accept an equivalent official document from your state or foreign government.
Beyond the official state website, there are a few third-party apps, which some people might find more user-friendly. There is an approved list on the SFDPH website, including the CLEAR HealthPass, if you already have it for travel. But for the record, very few local diners seem to use them.
Whichever option you choose, it’s not worth worrying about because the restaurants want to seat you. But in addition to proof of the vaccine, you’ll need to show valid photo ID, so staff can match names. Leung says that sometimes a tourist has to run back to a hotel room, but not because he lacks proof of the vaccine, more often because he didn’t want to take his passport with him. “It really wasn’t that difficult,” says Leung, who has an 11-year-old and a 3-month-old at home. “Sometimes we hear people complaining, but it really only takes a minute or two to check in, and it’s worth the effort to give us some extra protection.”