On Service, Part 2
Food-service workers tell me what it has been like to work through the pandemic.
“On Restaurants,” published in July, was one of my most popular Monday essays. In it, I asked whether it might behoove us as a society and as culture writers to stop thinking about chefs as rock-star entities, celebrities, untouchable geniuses who could act as the sole speakers on not just their own restaurants but the state of the industry as a whole, which recently employed 13.5 million people in the United States, many of whom have lost their work in this pandemic and are not as capable of landing on their feet as people like Danny Meyer, David Chang, or Tom Colicchio. These men have loudly whined about being left behind by the government, when their workers had already been left behind by the government as well as by them as owners. A lack of health insurance, a lack of a living wage—why weren’t these owners upset before the pandemic? Because the bullshit never trickled its way up. This perspective resonated with a lot of people, and rubbed others the wrong way. It seems I was onto something.
I have also written about the idea of service once already, in April. I wondered if we could think about hospitality as something that goes two ways—if we could think about those serving us as human beings, basically—we could transform our interactions with each other.
In writing both of those pieces, I was hopeful that we would follow Tunde Wey’s call to “let it die,” to turn our backs on the way we’ve covered restaurants and the way we’ve obsessed over them without regard for the workers. But chef profiles have returned, and we still only hear of workers maybe when they die. As food writers call for the restaurant industry to be bailed out, I wonder once again, will we then stop covering them breathlessly? Will we talk to front of house staff? Will we not fetishize hospitality, because it is labor? Will we also demand that the federal tipped minimum wage be abolished and that the minimum wage be raised to one that supports a decent standard of living? Will we demand Medicare for All? Will we advocate for good immigration policy (because we know we’re a long way off from abolishing borders) so that there is not a dependence on undocumented workers who can be taken advantage of and then not supported by unemployment benefits? “Food is political,” everyone loves to scream. Yes, that includes worker wages, status, and benefits, not just your right to dine out and feel good about it.
For my final free piece of the year (more notes on that below), I wanted to give service workers the mic and step away. Below are the voices of 14 people in different cities, in different positions, at different levels of comfort with sharing their names while generously sharing their experiences and telling me what they want from the government and food media. This is a crisis, but I’m not sure it’s the same crisis as has been depicted—as could be depicted—by those not living this experience of dealing with a greedy public in a pandemic. As one New York–based worker says, “Whatever rosy feelings I had about serving food and wine as some kind of calling have vanished.” What rosy feelings about covering food and wine might vanish?
“I work for a company that takes safety protocols about as seriously as I’ve seen, for one of the most popular spots in our area, with a generally good clientele, and day to day this is still awful. We have frequent breakdowns on our team, whether caused by a guest who refused to wear a mask or a health scare or just the weight of everything. I’ve shifted from applying my hospitality instincts to our guests—after all, we are being extremely hospitable just by serving nice food in a pandemic—and instead think of hospitality in terms of how I can help my coworkers make it through this.” —Anonymous, New York
“They did nothing. It took business tanking for them to modify hours and adopt sanitation procedures. Eventually they closed the cafe for a bit and were take out and online order only. I was sliding into my manager’s DMs with news links for a week before the owners told him they were going to put procedures in place.” —Madeleine Collins, Barista, Iowa City
“The café/restaurant barely reacted at all initially, even though it was clear a lockdown was coming. Large amounts of produce etc. were still ordered and prep was still being done right up until the first lockdown. I suppose like almost all government responses in the white western world, too little too late.” —Joel Brown, Cook, Amsterdam
“In the week or two leading up to closure our manager, Sheryl Heefner, pulled each of us aside individually to talk concerns and plans and possibilities. Closure seemed unlikely until all of a sudden, S[uperiority] B[urger] shut its doors (as we all found out via email at 1:11 AM Sunday, March 15). We were all at work on Saturday, being extra careful, extra sanitary, operating for take-out only. The next-day closure came as a complete shock, but understandably necessary. In typical Brooks [Headley] fashion, we were all invited back in the coming week to stock up on produce and dry goods because that was the least he could do (not to mention the produce would have gone bad). Sheryl soon set up a GoFundMe — myself and the other employees were able to get roughly 3 weeks of pay. Eventually SB was approved for PPP, which kept us on the payroll for an additional 8 weeks. They did the best they could with the resources they had and I am forever grateful. Never had I worked at a restaurant that was so caring and thoughtful when it came to the well-being of the cooks.” —Taylor Schneider, Chef, New York
“My work environment, unfortunately, it’s like an alternative reality. When the first news of the pandemic were out on the internet, I seemed to be the only one aware of what was going on in Asia (in that moment). When the pandemic started coming closer to Europe, some of my colleagues started noticing more, but always looking at it as something that was happening outside from us. When things started coming closer, there was still no acknowledgement from the management and even less from the owners. The was never a briefing providing safety measures or information around what was going on and their thoughts about it. First step for restaurants here was distance the tables 1.5 m from each other, which they did only for some hours at the beginning of service and after 8 pm we had to squeeze some tables back in (customers didn't seem to care if we respected the distance between tables); by then I was going to work really angry every day. When the first lockdown was imposed, the last working day was the first time the owner approach us and said we were ‘going though this together’ and that he hopped to see us soon.” —Micaela Longo, Server, Berlin
“It was a roller coaster. They closed for a month and a half starting at the beginning of April and had us all go on unemployment. During this time, the owners were still roasting and they delivered bulk orders in the Cedar Rapids area, where the original store is located (I worked in their Iowa City location). They opened back up in the middle of May, still with reduced hours and only serving orders to go. We made more on the Paycheck Protection Plan than what we would have made if business were pre-pandemic. It took a lot of arm twisting to get them (the owners) to mandate masks in the store and put up signs declaring that they were required, even after the city passed an ordinance. They were really lax on cleaning procedures and with how many people to let into the cafe at any given time. It was not a particularly safe environment. I left at the beginning of August because I have some health problems that make me vulnerable and they weren’t doing anything or empowering us to do anything to protect ourselves, let alone our customers. I have friends who work there still; recently, a new girl came in to work with symptoms, not knowing better, and exposed her coworkers and countless customers. The reaction from the owners was nonexistent. It took each of the workers at that location emailing and texting them angrily about closing the store so it could be cleaned and they could get tested. They have not been transparent with their staff or their customers about the fact that a staff member worked with symptoms and then tested positive. It’s egregious.”—M.C.
“I have a fellow cook working with me in the kitchen, and we have been able to bring back our beverage director to serve and handle ‘FOH’ duties (we try not to have walls of BOH or FOH at the restaurant). We now do very limited patio seating while the weather still allows. It feels harder now because I honestly thought this was only going to be a few months at most; now it’s inching closer to a year! We need to keep going and we continue to try to keep customers excited while sticking to our ethos as a restaurant. It’s not cheap, it’s far from easy, but we know we are doing the right thing, but not serving indoors or in a hut that's basically indoors but outside...like a building. Many of my peers are doing things differently and it’s hard to see us all struggling and how these pivots are for survival of the business, regardless if they are the right thing. But we are committed to providing a safe space to our minimal staff and guests.” —Rob Rubba, Chef-Partner, Washington, D.C.
“We have pivoted our business model several times. We started offering guided cider tastings in the afternoons by reservation only, to provide more hands-on service with a higher check average. In the evenings, we switched to glass pours only, no tastings. Over the course of the summer we introduced a lot more food (some of it necessary with our state's mandatory food-with-beverage guidelines) and started offering flights of cider and glass pours during the afternoon. We also added fire pits, a tent, pick-your-own flowers, live music, chili nights, Raclette nights, hot cider... basically anything we could think of to keep people coming. And now we're looking at the end of summer (it's definitely winter already!), so we had the choice to open up indoors or to shut down the tasting room. We have opted to shut down the tasting room and open as a bottle shop for the winter, to protect our staff.” —Sara May, Tasting Room Manager, Ithaca, NY
“In June, I accepted a job at a specialty foods store that has a wine and coffee bar and prepared foods kitchen. I needed steady income and health insurance and relocated in the hopes of having some stability during COVID. My current employer has not been the best about keeping myself and other employees safe and we have had multiple COVID scares and a few employees test positive.” —Anonymous, Private Chef—now Manager, California
“In June, at both locations, we started with a small crew and slowly started reopening but with shortened hours. We haven’t allowed a customer in the [Calle] Taft café since before the pandemic, and we are fully takeout, with some seats distanced outside, it will stay like that for a while. It’s working out very well for us, but our location in Puerto Rico has been a blessing. The weather allows year-round outdoor seating, and we don’t have to battle snow and low temps. I know other small businesses in the world don’t have this luxury and might be forced to close when the intense winter months arrive.” —Kali Solack, Owner, San Juan, PR
“Most people are lovely and respectful, though not as much of a majority as you’d like. The rest are various combinations of oblivious, indifferent, entitled, uncaring, and inhuman. My conception of hospitality has radicalized. So has my colleagues’. It feels very good to be mask-off about what a guest interaction means, socially and financially, tableside with that guest. Fuck Danny Meyer.” —Anon NY
“At first, customers were all happy to register and follow the right protocols but as the summer went on, people were often trying to push the limits of space, whether that be distancing of tables or not respecting the boundaries and personal space of the floor staff.” —J.B.
“Customers have tipped an average of 12% per transaction (which yes, are all to go, but it gets split with BOH too and helps us all make ends meet). We get several calls a day asking about dine-in. We occasionally have people walk-in only to leave moments later when they realize there is no dine-in option. We have had several people complain about prices (which haven’t changed) and the fact that we have edited down our menu (we can’t afford to offer the full one).” —Alana Al-Hatlani, Baker, Seattle
“Initially everyone was very considerate—taking care to follow new procedures as we adapted and as queue times lengthened, generally being patient. Since around August, we have had far more customers expressing skepticism about the pandemic and the changes we've made to keep the business running. As a local bakery, I think we've avoided the worst customer responses—I know friends who worked in other parts of hospitality finding the customers taking advantage of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme over August were some of the worst they've experienced. Unlike the rest of our team, who have managed to use work as some form of stability right now, our FOH have been forced into 'pandemic small talk' constantly, and while I understand customers aren't being malicious, I do wish they would consider the effect 40hrs a week of that has on the people serving them.” —George Walton, Bakery Manager, Bristol, UK
“I've since moved up to Westchester and began working as a sous chef at an ice cream shop in town. Customers seem to have the same attitude up here as they did down in NYC and BK—a lot of them are frustrated and fed up that these establishments are operating differently than what they are used to. No cash? No bathrooms? I need to wear a mask while ordering AND while grabbing my order from you?! The juvenile behavior from adults has been incredible to see (in the worst way, of course). It is easy to focus on their shitty behavior, though. The reality is that most people have been compassionate, seeking conversations and connections with those working their local spots, conscientious of the well-being of the restaurant employees.”—T.S.
“It's been frustrating to see the structures of privilege that have always existed, heightened and exacerbated during this pandemic. Many customers are lovely, many are responsive to social-distancing and required masks, and many are horrible, difficult, and intimately tied to the perceptions of what they deserve, which, as always, comes down to a demand for others' time, attention, and a lack of respect for what it takes for a person to risk their life to serve beer to a stranger.”—Katie Bennett, Head Coffee Roaster, Colorado Springs
“In fairness, I would say that the majority of our customers really appreciated our safety procedures. But we had a very vocal minority that made this summer terrible. Initially there was a TON of resistance to our mask requirements. (Although all of our operation was outdoors, we required people to wear their masks any time they were standing up any where on our property). I'd say we had 3 main groups of non-compliant people: the locals, who felt entitled to gather in large groups on live music nights and were absolutely livid about our 6 foot distancing rules. The tourists, many of whom came from large cities, felt they didn't have to worry about wearing their masks on our property because there was so much more space than they were used to. And when the college kids came back from the summer, they were a fucking nightmare. They came in HUGE groups (like 20 people at a time), would bring in their own alcohol, didn't want to wear their masks and generally felt they could disregard all of our safety procedures. I have been working in restaurants for most of my career and have never been threatened with violence by a customer before. It became almost routine this summer. I was sworn at A LOT, had several women old enough to be my mother get in my face and was even spat on once.”—S.M.
“Wish [my place of employment] could have paid us to safely stay at home while the initial shutdown happened. If the government gave small biz money to pay us, we could have come back by now.” —Lex, Server, Sacramento
“I think given the circumstances my employer has done the best they can. Limiting dine-in and always being to-go has been crucial and I appreciate that they haven’t budged on that since day one.”—A.A.
“In particular, I wish we had decided to shut for a week or two to give everyone some time to rest and make sure new things like our online delivery and collection system were running as smoothly as possible. I think we also struggled to communicate properly with the team as the pandemic hit but again, it all seemed to come up so quickly that I'm not sure how we could have made it work better.”—G.W.
“I am very happy with how we maneuvered Café Regina during the pandemic. I’m sure mistakes were made, but over all, I think we handled ourselves well. We have been extremely careful, but most importantly, very respectful of the crew. A lot of our decisions at Café Regina, are made as a team effort. We are all trying to navigate a pandemic for the first time ever, and I feel, as a business owner, that including your team in decision making processes, especially in ones that can directly impact their own health, and the health of their loved ones, is critical. I let my team work if they are comfortable and happy to work. If something is making them uncomfortable, we communicate, and make adjustments. In March, due to the lack of support from the government, I had team members who needed to work to pay rent and to buy food, so this was a huge factor in when we decided to reopen.”—K.S.
“I wish my workplace had taken more precautions from the beginning like checking employees temperatures and ensuring everyone was wearing masks. I also wish that everyone was given more down time and that our health insurance was not so astronomically expensive.”—Anon California
“I think the government here in Germany did a good job. I felt really lucky to be experiencing the pandemic in this country. Service workers got 60% of our usual salary, with the owner was supposed to pay on time to the worker and in the first 15 days of the month the government payed the establishment. We didn't get the salary on time; first they wanted for the government to give them the money and they they wire it us. Also, that 60% was supposed to be a balance of the normal hours you did a month and they also managed to put everyone less hours.” —M.L.
“Relief and a new system all together! Capitalism clearly is detrimental to all of us in the service industry. For how many years do I need to grind and hustle and how many 50+ hour weeks do I need to work before I actually feel comfortable in my career? Right now, it is all about who you know and what you look like and what economic class your family is part of. But I'm no schmoozer and I'm a woman and I'm part of a working class family so being able to have health insurance and enough money to pay off my student loans and car payment and wedding debt and car insurance and still have enough to pay for rent — the basics, you know — isn't attainable for me within this field. Yet I am still here because I love it and continue to learn so much about my trade.” —T.S.
“In general, I think the UK government has severely fucked up its response, but that's a whole other thing. In terms of hospitality, Eat Out to Help Out was possibly the most misguided policy they could have thought up. Targeted support was definitely necessary; however, reopening businesses and immediately encouraging as many people as possible to go out on the same few days is just madness really. It kept businesses afloat, but in general, it set back the nation massively and also, for a short period, felt like it was going to permanently devalue the price restaurants and bars could charge with many continuing offers through September without the government support.”—G.W.
“I wish we had all been on total shutdown from the beginning. In March and April, I still naively thought everything would be finished by the summer. Then in the summer, I thought we’d be fine in the winter. Now I feel jaded about the whole thing and am afraid that this will never end. In this second wave of shutdowns, I’ve lost hours and am facing the same financial difficulties that I just barely clawed my way out of a couple months ago. But I don’t believe that another stimulus check is coming or that anyone is going to help us. In the service industry, we’re all each other has, and even that doesn’t always mean a whole lot.”—Anon NY
“Listening and learning from other countries where the Corona strategy has worked. Not believing in group immunity for a virus they know nothing about. Full lockdown for a much longer period of time, and then being able to control outbreaks with isolation and contact tracing. Investing in contract tracing, requiring face masks at all times (a lot of hospitals and GPs weren't even doing this), not choosing to let the vulnerable suffer so people can eat and drink out, being transparent about their own goals. Not letting anyone profit from a public health crisis (privately run testing clinics, for example).”—J.B.
“As I see it, we need to to change the perspective on the cost of food. It starts on the farms and paying a treating the workers there with dignity—rights and fair wages. They also need to be broken up and more local producers supplying to food chains of communities. It was scary to see grocery store shelves empty because they only have contract with giant mono crop farms from all over the world, while local producers were struggling to sell and they could have easily helped fill the shelves and feed more people. Everyone should have access to food'; so many other systems are broken that the scapegoat is the cost of food, but it’s more about wages, healthcare, rights. I hope restaurant operators value staff more, put more value in them then the guest. Abolish ‘customer is always right’ and create environments that are healthy and productive for team members. Re-evaluate revenue streams creatively rather than everyone on doubles and bending over backwards for tips. A sit-down establishment is a luxury, human beings wake up to cook, clean and serve others leaving families behind. It’s beautiful and it need to be valued, as so much of the restaurant world is stemmed from servants and slavery. That narrative and acceptance needs to be removed.” —R.R.
“We need to wipe out this toxic idea of radical hospitality. On its face it looks like such a classy idea, but the ‘customer is always right’ ethos turns out entitled, abusive customers and makes ownership toady to their whims. Owners and managers should restructure their thinking and their business models to put their employees first. I firmly believe that this will actually result in better customer service. Eliminating tipping obviously goes hand-in-hand with this. Health insurance, strong systems of worker protection (unions!!!) and burning down the hierarchical BOH brigade system would go a long way towards happier, healthier employees. This naturally means that food is going to cost more — AND IT SHOULD. The industry should be a better place for farmers and growers and suppliers, too, and that means paying them more for their products. I've said this repeatedly throughout the pandemic, but dining out is a luxury and should be treated as such. (And I hope this attitude shift would also change customer's perspectives re: servers being skilled professionals, not their personal servants. Eliminating tipping would also help this.) The demand from our society for cheap and fast food, even in the context of finer dining, hurts everyone on the chain from the farmers to the servers to the cooks to the dishwashers.”—S.M.
“I think employees need to have more leverage in the business decisions, either through unionization or through an employee ownership program. It seems the only way for this industry to make the structural changes necessary to eliminate its abusive nature. While I don’t believe in health care being tied to employment (#medicareforall), I do think restaurant jobs need to provide benefits for their employees just like office jobs do, including paid time-off, 401ks, etc. If that means dining out becomes more expensive then that’s the true cost of food service and customers should respect that.”—A.A.
“I feel grateful to be working in my current restaurant because the chef has had to sort of kill his ego to adapt to the difficulties of the pandemic. That has been amazing—to work for someone who treats us all like equals, who values our opinions and ideas, who cares if we’re okay. I wish that this humility and adaptability, this idea that service industry workers are people first, becomes more of a norm among chefs and restaurant owners. I don’t want to see any lionizing portraits of great chefs who made it out of the pandemic financially unscathed. Who would give a shit about that? I want workers to feel like they deserve respect and care for the position they’ve been put in this year.”—Anon NY
“Minimum wage needs to be raised, customers need to understand the worth and quality behind their food, and be willing to pay more, especially to businesses who value quality and more importantly, their teams. Paying your teams well is the most important factor. Companies need to be held accountable for how they treat and pay their teams. I see too many owners getting away with horrible practices. Paying attention to staff turnover is how I have been learning who is best to support. It would be great to see restaurants get ratings, like they do sanitary grades, on how they treat their team. We also have to restructure what a normal day looks like for a worker in the food industry. 12 hour shifts, on ones feet, at minimal wage, with no health insurance, is appalling. No one should have to grind like this. There needs to be a healthier balance. We need tax breaks for lower income household, and the rich need to stop whining, step up, and pay more taxes.”—K.S.
“I could write ad infinitum on what needs to change in the service industry but I will try to be succinct. The world of food needs to obliterate the patriarchal, extractive, white supremacist model it currently operates in. The grind and hustle culture needs to die. The physical and mental wellbeing of employees needs to truly be supported. Living wages for everyone, and not just living but comfortable wages. Ingredient sourcing needs to change massively, drastically less animal protein, more local, seasonal produce, significantly less food waste and waste of every kind. I realize this would shake up how nearly everyone eats and the expectation around dining out but we can't continue the way we've been going.”—Anon California
“Value for the work that we do, the line worker, education to the customer, healthier work environments and regulated payrolls. There is still lots of inequality. I am working in this place because my work visa is tied to them and I can't quit after 24 month of being with them have past and supporting this kind of business and people it really makes me think twice my path in the industry. Food workers are not considered qualified workers here in Germany as they are not in many places around the world. That should change, elitism, stupid star ratings that are there to judge what you are doing and thinking they can put a standard but they disappear when things get wild.”—M.L.
“I would love to see the service industry become a viable career option going forward, to become an industry that recognizes and compensates the skills that have always been necessary to be good at any service industry job.”—K.B.
“Higher wages and health insurance would be a life-changing start. Service industry workers are literally serving hundreds of people on a daily basis, yet they are paid as if they aren't absolutely vital to a community.”—T.S.
“In the UK, food media is too posh and far too chummy with restaurant owners to really look at the effects of the pandemic beyond screaming 'I MISS RESTAURANTS - SAVE THE RESTAURANTS!' repeatedly. This has lead to endless calls for less restrictions on restaurants when really it would be much more beneficial to the country as a whole to simply provide enough funding for places to not need to open if they're unable to operate in a safe manner. The one outlier in the UK has been the Vittles newsletter, which has covered the pandemic from pretty much every angle possible and gives me hope that one day the Giles Corens of the world will be replaced.”—G.W.
“I cringe when I flip through mainstream food publications. It feels like a lot are just full on ignoring we are in a pandemic.”—Anon California
“I think there hasn’t been enough volume on how badly so many businesses are struggling. You see articles, but I don’t think there has been enough attention on the topic to force much change. It’s still just background noise. My family for example, we have always been small business owners, and I currently have 2 locations, and I’ve had to make sure they know to support small over the holidays, and some of them hadn’t thought about it. Corporate America controls so much of the narrative, and for older generations especially, that narrative silences the voices of smaller companies, and of the food media that doesn’t agree with the larger corporations. However, Trump has been in office, and nothing will be focused on small businesses while he’s still on his throne. I hope that Biden can bring more change and hear our cries, but who knows.”—K.S.
“I don’t really care how David Chang is weathering the storm of this pandemic or any other extremely wealthy restauranteurs. I recently read a New York Times piece on Seattle restaurants struggling and all parties featured were almost all well-established, white male restaurant owners with multiple locations (one of which is opening new properties outside the city while his city locations are closed, and staff is furloughed). Hardly the ‘moms and pops’ everyone always says need your help. The big guys get the press and the little guy just gets an Eater write-up when they shutter.”—A.A.
“With some notable exceptions, it's the same circle jerk between food media and white male ‘superstar’ chefs. Except now it's excessive hand-wringing over the fate of these superstars. Or the superstars themselves are wading into the debate (and being given a platform by food media) in harmful ways. I'm thinking specifically of Philadelphia's Marc Vetri and his flouting of mask rules, his braying insistence that opening restaurants isn't harmful to the general public, his silence on the precautions his restaurant groups are taking to ensure the safety of their staff. Look, I love so many things about restaurants and restaurant culture. But it is deeply entrenched in systemic racism and sexism—they are the absolute foundation of the modern restaurant. This pandemic could be a chance to tear it down and rebuild in an entirely new and inclusive way. But all we know how to do—all we have ever known how to do—is to churn, churn, churn. Restaurants are capitalism distilled. We are so desperate to simply survive, we get off the wheel to ponder the fact that survival is only the first step.”—S.M.
“I find that there hasn’t been enough media about workers real narratives during this time—their hopes, fears, and struggles. During the summer, I worked in a bar, which was a dumpster fire. I got to tell my story to Naomi Tomky who then published it in Eater. And of course 99% of the comments were so evil and disparaging. Some of them called me a traitor, a communist (which, duh), and some were just plain degrading. But Naomi and I talked about how necessary it was to run a narrative of an ordinary worker who felt trapped in an unsafe environment with no knowledge of how to navigate that situation. It sucked but I’m glad I did it. Hopefully somebody read it and felt like they could stand up for themselves too.”—M.W.
“I don’t give a shit about the chefs and owners keeping their food businesses open. I want to hear more from the workers actually doing the work with the public. I think, however, many workers would be hesitant to speak out for fear of repercussions. Quite often they’re working out there because they have to, not because they want to. As a result big food media has often only talked to chefs and owners, and of course they’re like “government must stimulate the food industry.” But they aren’t talking about how to make wage workers in their industry less vulnerable. Tunde Wey talked a lot on various platforms a few months ago about how we need to let the restaurant industry go up in flames. Those writings changed how I view this entire situation.”—M.C.
“End chef culture already. Take care of the people who actually make and serve the food you breathlessly ’gram.”—Anon New York
“I'm constantly amazed by the demands of escapism from the customers. And it's partly our fault—pre-pandemic we absolutely encouraged the notion that you could forget your cares for a few hours over cocktails or a magical dinner. But these days we can't eliminate all of reality from the dining experience—and and some patrons are ENRAGED by this. Merely asking someone to wear a mask or to remain socially distant from another party will sometimes be rewarded with a lecture from the customer about how they ‘just need to forget.’ Imagine the lack of self-awareness it takes to heckle a younger person who is literally putting their life on the line to come to work, who is wearing that mask that you hate so much for 8 hours a day, who is making less than minimum wage and relying on tips for survival. But that lack of self awareness is rampant. How can we help you ‘forget’ when we can never, never forget for a second, lest we inadvertently do something to make you sick? How do you respond to a customer who, when asked to put on a mask, says ‘But there's no one here’ as if you were no one?”—S.M.
“When I started working in kitchens a few years ago, I completely fell in love. It was hard fucking work but you were grinding away with others just like you. There was a camaraderie that I had never before experienced. My life has changed a lot since March, having worked initially as a Line Cook at the best restaurant in NYC (I'm biased but whatever), then as the Interim Head Chef at a vegan restaurant [Modern Love] in Brooklyn, to a Sous Chef at a tiny, well known ice cream shop in Westchester. But what is now missing is the camaraderie. There is limited overlap in shift times, for one. There is less enjoyment in making and sharing food with your fellow cooks because there is now no (or limited) tasting while in the kitchen. We need to remain aware about how much distance there is between ourselves and our co-workers constantly. We are putting ourselves at risk to work in a way that is unfamiliar and a little unfulfilling just to continue serving paying customers. Yet we still don't have health insurance.” —T.S.
This is the final Monday essay for 2020. Next Monday, I’ll send out a “Year in Review” along with a 2021 preview. I need a breather and to re-orient my time management. (My book is due July 1, 2021!) All paid subscriptions will be on hold from 12/8 to 1/1; I’ll return 1/4.
On Wednesday, paid-subscriber discussion will ask about your 2020. How are you feeling as the year comes to a close and we look toward a new presidency, maybe a vaccine? What do you want for your food life in 2021?
For The Baffler, I reviewed Deborah Madison’s An Onion in My Pocket and it was a Longreads pick for top 5 reads of the week. I talked to Vogue about sustainable booze, which an also be found in the December 2020 print issue.
Truly nothing, because I was focused on cooking the feast that marks the start of Christmas season.
Said feast, for which I burned tahdig but it was still edible!!! Curried jackfruit, roasted potatoes and carrots with za’atar, parsley, and pistachos. Hummus and baba ganoush. Miso-creamed kale and collards. Pumpkin pie with a shortbread crust—no tofu because we couldn’t find it, just arrowroot starch for the eggs. Delicious! Drank so much wine and had ill-advised but perfect Negronis.