- Olive Garden parent company Darden Restaurants will offer two hours of pay for its 133,000 hourly employees for each dose of the COVID-19 vaccine they receive — up to four hours, Orlando Sentinel reports. The pay rate will be based on the employee's earnings, including tips, over the last 13 weeks with a maximum rate of $20 per hour, according to MarketWatch.
- Employees at the more than 1,815 Darden restaurants will need to provide proof of vaccination to their managers to qualify, but the company said it won't require vaccinations to work, according to MarketWatch.
- Darden's vaccine policy adds to its March 2020 roll out of a paid sick leave policy for its hourly employees who did not previously have it. As per the policy, employees earn an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, while new employees can use accrued sick leave after a 90-day trial.
Prioritizing employees' health and safety by creating this policy, on top of its paid sick leave, could help Darden retain its employees. Despite high unemployment the industry continues to struggle with staffing issues after a challenging 2020. According to the National Restaurant Association's State of the Industry 2021 report, the sector finished 2020 with nearly 2.5 million jobs below pre-COVID-19 levels. Forty-two percent of casual dining operators say they have job openings that have been hard to fill.
Restaurant Analyst John Gordon told the Orlando Sentinel that he expects more players in the restaurant space to follow Darden's lead as an effort to ease consumer anxiety about dining out. If the U.S. is able to "diligently vaccinate," things could go back to normal by early fall, Dr. Anthony Fauci recently told CNN.
The industry is itching to get back to normal after losing 24% of sales in 2020 while grappling with continued regulations. While many other chains continue to deliberate whether or not to require vaccinations for their employees, Darden is one of just a few outwardly incentivizing them to do so while avoiding a mandate.
Chipotle announced in late December that it will pay for the costs associated with the vaccine, but won't mandate employees receive it. A few smaller restaurant companies have also announced their intent to pay employees to get vaccines, including Washington, D.C.-based Knead Hospitality + Design. Starbucks is participating in a statewide effort in Washington to expedite vaccinations and is paying some of its operations and analytics employees to help design vaccination sites, but the company hasn't announced any efforts to vaccinate its employees directly.
As essential workers, the CDC has recommended restaurant workers get vaccinated in Phase 1c under the "other essential workers" designation. The National Restaurant Association has also requested priority access to the vaccine for foodservice employees. The rollout, however, has so far varied state by state.