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August 01, 2021

Two Philadelphia restaurants implement COVID-19 vaccination policies for diners

Martha in Kensington will ask those eating indoors to prove they got their shots, while Irwin's Upstairs in South Philly will not seat unvaccinated customers

Food & Drink Restaurants
80121 Martha and Irwin's Upstairs.jpg @ marthakensington/@irwinsupstairs/Instagram

Two Philadelphia restaurants, Martha in Kensington and Irwin's Upstairs in South Philly, are requiring diners show proof of vaccination against COVID-19. The new policies were instituted over the weekend, as cases of the highly contagious Delta variant continue to spread throughout the United States.

Over the weekend, two Philadelphia restaurants joined others around the country in requiring diners prove that they are vaccinated against COVID-19 before sitting down for a meal.

Martha, which offers a variety of hoagies and charcuterie on East York Street in Kensington, took to Instagram on Saturday to announce that it will ask those wishing to eat indoors or sit at its bar to first present their vaccination card or a picture of it "out of respect for our fellow neighbors and staff." Those without proof of vaccination will be seated in the restaurant's outdoor patio area, according to the social media post.

Martha's general manager, Olivia Caceres, told CBS3 that the new requirement stems from staff feedback. She also said some of Martha's regular customers were in favor of the decision.

"This pandemic isn’t over," Caceres told CBS3. "We’re really listening to our staff. We care about their health. We care about their safety. If it’s something just as simple as checking some vaccination cards in order to come inside, that’s a simple thing for us to do. We’re still offering service to everyone. If you are not able to show a card for whatever reason, we have patio seating; we have sidewalk seating.”

A stricter policy went into place Sunday at Irwin's Upstairs, which serves Sicilian dishes in a rooftop bar setting on the eighth floor of the Bok Building in South Philly. In addition to requiring guests to show their vaccination card or a picture of it, the restaurant is also enforcing a mandate for its employees — "no exceptions."

"If you or a member of your party is unvaccinated, you will not be eligible to dine with us," Irwin's Upstairs said in an Instagram post Saturday. "If you or a member of your party currently have a reservation at Irwin’s Upstairs, we would advise cancelling now."

Anyone who wishes to cancel their reservation should contact Irwin's Upstairs and let them know the cancelation is due to the proof-of-vaccination policy to avoid paying a fee of $30 per person. The restaurant said it will not be issuing refunds for canceled reservations without prior notification.

The executive chef at Irwin's, Michael Ferreri, told CBS3 that he can’t imagine the restaurant will lose customers over the new policy. Either way, he said that risk "is less than losing a staff member."

"We're talking money versus a human life," Ferreri said. "If you asked me to choose, I’m obviously going to choose a human life over anything."

In Wayne, Pennsylvania, Cornerstone Bistro & Artisanal Market will also require indoor diners to show proof of vaccination, according to a post on the restaurant's Instagram page. Those who are not vaccinated or do not have their card/a photo of it can dine outdoors in a tent area that features a fire pit lounge. 

"We look forward to seeing everyone soon and getting through this together, safely," owners Nick and Christine Kondra wrote on Instagram. We thank you for your patience as we navigate these rocky waters once again."

With Philadelphia, Delaware, Bucks and Montgomery counties reporting "substantial" COVID-19 transmission, only time will tell if more restaurants across the city and the surrounding area begin implementing precautions similar to those at Martha, Irwin's and Cornerstone.

It may be helpful to look at what restaurants in other big cities are doing. In Los Angeles, "a growing number" are requiring diners to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative coronavirus test, according to the L.A. Times. Healthline is reporting that several spots in New York City are asking for proof of inoculation. Ditto for Seattle's bar and restaurant scene, according to KOMO News

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on July 27 recommended everyone wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, in counties that are reporting high or substantial transmission. This reversal in policy was due in large part to the highly contagious Delta variant becoming the most predominant strain of COVID-19 in the United States.

If you know of other Philly-area restaurants that are implementing vaccination policies, email