Inside In-N-Out Burger’s escalating war with California over COVID-19 vaccine rules

An up-close exterior shot of an In-N-Out Burger sign
In-N-Out officials argue that requiring private businesses to enforce rules requiring proof of vaccination amounts to government overreach.
(Alex Tai / Getty Images)

In-N-Out Burger, the iconic California eatery, is increasingly at war with health officials over COVID-19 rules.

Earlier this month, San Francisco’s only In-N-Out was forced to temporarily close for violating a local rule requiring proof of vaccination for indoor customers.

Located on Fisherman’s Wharf, the restaurant has since reopened for outdoor dining only.

This week, Contra Costa Health Services confirmed that an In-N-Out in Pleasant Hill was also forced to close after repeatedly violating county COVID-19 rules.

Officials said they gave the restaurant ample opportunities to comply but that it created a public health hazard by “repeatedly violating” the county order.

That order, in effect since Sept. 22, requires restaurants and some other indoor establishments to verify that all customers 12 or older are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or have had a negative coronavirus test within the previous 72 hours.

The issue

In-N-Out officials have pushed back, arguing that asking private businesses to enforce rules requiring proof of vaccination amounts to government overreach.

Arnie Wensinger, In-N-Out’s chief legal and business officer, said after the San Francisco closure:

“As a company, In-N-Out Burger strongly believes in the highest form of customer service and to us that means serving all customers who visit us and making all customers feel welcome,” he said. “We refuse to become the vaccination police for any government.”

Wensinger called San Francisco’s mandate unreasonable, invasive and unsafe for employees to “segregate customers” into groups who can and can’t be served.

Public health officials note the vast majority of businesses are following the rules, which are designed to keep diners safe and encourage vaccinations.

What’s next

Los Angeles’ impending crackdown could be an important test of the In-N-Out chain’s resistance to rules requiring proof of vaccination.

The exact number of In-N-Out locations in L.A. wasn’t available, but there are at least 16, mostly in the San Fernando Valley.

The L.A. ordinance, approved earlier this month by the City Council, requires proof of vaccination to eat inside restaurants or to enter shopping malls, movie theaters and other indoor venues. The measure includes escalating penalties for businesses that don’t enforce it.