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We Ran A Vaccine Survey

Last week we ran a survey.

Our objective was to try and read not just the mood of the nation, but the mood of Auckland dining enthusiasts – regarding what they thought the rules should be for restaurants opening up into a Covid-traffic-light future. It's no joke when we say that a result of 11,016 respondents well exceeded our expectations.

Now, we’ve spoken with many restaurateurs who are nervous about having to open up shop with Delta still at large. They don’t want to put their staff, their customers or themselves at risk. Neither do they want to be turning customers away at the door, particularly for reasons that have become hotly political and capable of creating a sizable rift through our society.

Auckland City by Sulthan Auliya Unsplash

No business owner, manager, or front-line worker wants the responsibility of checking a customer’s vaccine passport. This loaded gesture questions a person’s beliefs around their right to choose, in their levels of trust for our government's advice and their acceptance of a recently developed drug. This is normally the point in the proceedings when a server would be asking “a table by the window?”, not about a customer’s stance on needles and the contents therein.

In a recent interview with the chef and owner of Culprit restaurant Kyle Street, he gave us this insight: “Vaccination mandates are a way the government can instruct all restaurants on how to operate. If this isn't mandated and each restaurant is left to choose to use vaccine passports or not, this opens up the possibility of conflict...”

Since then, the government has made it clear restaurants will be severely disadvantaged if they do not check for vaccine passports and that they may also require the same of their staff. But they stopped short of making vaccine passports compulsory across our hospitality and retail industries. This leaves ample room for friction at the front door of every café, restaurant, bar and retailer, as small businesses are now all but mandated to require vaccine passports presented on entry. If a business owner now chooses to only serve the vaccinated, are the unvaccinated going to see this as a personal affront? It's not mandatory by law (as the Covid-19 Protection Framework states that one is still able to operate in a contactless manner) and this is just room enough for hostility to brew.

Let’s be clear: no restaurateur we have spoken to has said they think everyone should be made to take the jab. But all of them have said that the responsibility of monitoring vaccinations is beyond their comfort level in operating their business. Judging by some of the online mudslinging in this debate, we can understand why. In a recent social post about our own team being vaccinated, we unwittingly invited the ill-wishes of more than a few - here's a sample: “Hope you all go bankrupt. Stick your vaccines and your passports where the sun don’t shine”.

To quote from Chef Simon Gault’s recent interview on Newstalk ZB regarding vaccines “...none of us really want to have this vaccine right? But the problem is this thing is going on and we’ve got to do it.” Simon’s stance we believe is simple – businesses have to open soon before many more of them run out of funds completely, but we also need the government to provide a safe and reasonable operating environment. A mandate for vaccination may not be perfect, but is about the best chance we have of achieving this.

What do the customers think? Well, here is what our survey showed:

98% of respondents enjoy dining out at restaurants, bars & other food & drink establishments. Off to a good start.

89% said they would consider dining out with the next drop in alert levels (just 3% stating they would only do so in an outdoor environment and 8% indicating they would stick with takeaways and eating at home).

We also noted that 94% would dine in a F&B establishment if they knew that there were unvaccinated people (staff or customers) in the premises.

Here comes the clincher. When asked: “Do you think it should be compulsory to have restaurant staff and diners fully vaccinated to be able to dine in at F&B establishments?” 94% respondents selected “No. It should be a choice.” That’s 10,369 out of 11,016 responses.

Did these results surprise us? Well they did, but they probably shouldn’t have.

By far, New Zealanders have embraced the Pfizer Vaccine. 88% of the eligible population have had their first dose or have booked for it, 79% both doses. These statistics based on actual actions by an entire country’s population are of course much more reliable than our voluntary online poll. Vaccination rates show a strong uptake of the vaccine, most respondents to our online poll show a clear preference for personal choice (note we did not ask “are you vaccinated?” although with hindsight, that might seem relevant now).

We received several messages over the long weekend advising us that our poll was being circulated amongst certain online groups and that this may skew the results. Given how polarising this topic has become, we really shouldn’t have been surprised. But no matter how flawed our poll methodology was, the results of it are still the results and they show a clear preference by a very vocal part of our population.

And before we hear cries of “your poll has simply been hijacked by anti-vaxxers” we’d like to point out the final and in some ways the most interesting finding.

Will you wear a mask/face covering in a F&B establishment when you are not eating or drinking?

58% were hard and fast on their freedom of choice, overriding all other concerns.

But even when 94% had earlier stated they thought that vaccination should not be compulsory for staff and diners, 18% were happy to wear a mask in a hospitality venue and another 24% would when asked.

This suggests that either this large proportion of our survey respondents are more likely to slip on a mask than take the vaccine in their arm, or that indeed for a good proportion of these people the debate is as much about the right to choose, as it is about the vaccine itself.

What we conclude of this entire situation is this: without bouncers on every door, checking vaccine passports at hospitality venues is going to be a big ask even if every customer cooperates. But with the hard-line stances that this issue has brought up and the stage now set by government, we can now only hope that these frictions don’t play out daily on our high streets, at our cafes, restaurants and bars when their doors finally do open up to nine tenths of New Zealanders.

One thing we can all agree on is that it’ll be nice to get back to a position of unity and we can dine socially together once again.

by Luisa Brimble/Unsplash

Disclaimer: Dine Social is a platform for the promotion of food and drink events in Tāmaki Makaurau. As event promoters and organisers in this industry, we have a vested interest in the vibrancy and wellbeing of the hospitality scene. So we have been digging into some of the issues that seem really important right now and these pages share the results. Note that the poll referred to in this article was for interests’ sake only, has not been independently verified and is in no way statistically accurate.


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