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Sam, who works as a bartender in the East Village, says that as New York’s bars and restaurants have reopened with safety regulations that he is expected to enforce, he has “uncomfortable experiences with people” weekly. In one instance shortly after indoor dining reopened, he asked a customer who had gotten up from his table to comply with the rule that people wear masks when not seated. “He just leans over the bar,” Sam recalls, “looks me dead in the eye, and says, ‘I don’t do that shit.’”

Things escalated from there, and the customer refused to leave. Sam, who asked not to use his last name for this story, says he didn’t know what to do. “All I could do was yell at these guys to fuck off and find something to possibly defend myself with.”

It’s the usual entitlement from customers with an added dose of a contentious issue, like dumping water into oil. The situation won’t be surprising to the countless hospitality workers who, in addition to their usual responsibilities, have been tasked with asking customers to do things they don’t always want to do. Even interactions that might have once been commonplace can be met with hostility, a reality that is worse for POC staffers, who often face more harassment in the workplace. One Black employee at Pinch Chinese, who asked not to be named, remembers a customer interaction she had this past weekend: “They requested to be seated; I told them we were fully committed and that it would be a 30-minute wait. He immediately said, ‘That’s such a nasty attitude,’” she says. “The truth is no one wants to hear ‘no’ — much less ‘please put on a mask’ — from a Black woman. You don’t. They don’t want to hear it from the president, and they definitely don’t want to hear it from someone in a restaurant.”

Given this tension, workers say they didn’t look forward to enforcing vaccine requirements set by their workplaces and the conflicts that would inevitably erupt when they told unvaccinated guests that they weren’t welcome to dine inside their restaurants. “If there’s a door guy, it’s not an issue — but we can’t afford to have a door guy every night,” says Evan, a Bushwick bartender. “Every other night of the week it’s on the bartenders and, if they have one, a barback. It’s just going to be a lot.”

Then at least some help arrived on Monday, when Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New York City will require proof of vaccination from anyone going into restaurants, gyms, or theaters. It’s the first mandate of its kind in the United States, meant to push people to get vaccinated and, at least in part, to ease the burden on workers by making it standard. “It’s a relief,” says Sam, the East Village bartender. “This is something that’s caused a lot of problems.”

Though the rule takes effect on August 16, with enforcement set to begin September 13, many restaurants have already instituted vaccine mandates for indoor — and in at least one case, outdoor — customers. But even now, the shifting of responsibility from workers to the city agencies is a welcome change. “The fact that it’s not just me saying that, it’s a whole body of government, gives me some support,” says Sam. “I hope people will be less mad at me, and it will not be taken out on me in a really negative, shitty way.”

Anything that can be done to ease friction with customers is a positive step, says the Pinch employee: “Obviously now there’s the mandate being put down by the mayor, so it’s not necessarily a conversation that needs to be had — and I’m very grateful for that.”

Others, however, are less optimistic, given the government’s past bungling and the lack of specifics that have been offered regarding enforcement of the mandate. “With COVID rules, they were just like, ‘Yeah, do whatever you want — you guys figure it out,’” says Evan. “It just seemed like they didn’t learn anything from a year ago; they’ve learned almost nothing.”

And Sam, the East Village bartender, knows that some customers will continue to act out, no matter what the government says. “I definitely still expect some blowback from it,” he admits, although he’s clear that he is nevertheless happy to have the new rule in place. “I think I just feel a little safer, I guess, in that every single person will expect it everywhere now.”