Every year when we hold the Restaurant Awards, we carve out a page or two for Premier Crew, a recognition of five or six front-of-house workers who, in the eyes of our judges, have gone above and beyond. We get them together for a photo shoot, write a few nice things about them, and the next year we do it again with another batch of honourees, and so on. But this year it all feels a woefully inadequate response to the people in an often-overlooked segment of the industry who were, without a trace of irony, our goddamn heroes.
READ MORE: The 32nd* Annual Restaurant Award Winners
Let’s have a short recap. The pandemic started for many in the FOH with an immediate layoff notice as restaurants, suddenly plunged into a cash-flow abyss, scrambled to cut costs at every angle in order to survive. And while CERB and a few other related programs tried to stem the financial catastrophe, there were no programs to help with the trauma of being let go by people you often consider family. And worse, the break wasn’t clean, with servers and BOH being rehired and let go again and again as restaurants suffered the modest ups and terrible downs of the pandemic, trying to keep their heads above water when it wasn’t even possible to gauge the depth.
And for the lucky few who did come back to work, here’s what they faced: an environment radically worse than the already-precarious one that existed before COVID. There were, at best, half the number of tables, so one can imagine how that affects the livelihood of people whose compensation has been shunted to a customer who enjoys unfettered discretion in what they offer. Vancouver’s FOH folk found themselves spending their entire day masked and gloved up. They found themselves in the role of enforcer as customers grew lax on provincially mandated mask requirements. They had to check vaccine passports. They routinely had to ask people not to mingle or visit other tables. And all of these unenviable tasks were rarely met with decency—let alone respect—by the unmasked mouth-breathing offenders.
And then there was the constant fear and uncertainty of being around large numbers of people day in, day out, when our knowledge about COVID was changing by the week. In a final insult, when the province started to prioritize who would be eligible for early vaccination, they—the very definition of front-line workers—were on the outside looking in. Work in a plant that processes chicken? Here’s your shot. Spend all day serving that chicken to a revolving door of randos? We’ll get back to you.
For many, it’s been too much. Restaurants are desperate for FOH workers right now, and while jaded people point to the CERB subsidy, the reality is that after the year-and-so that FOH folks have endured, many just don’t know if they can keep doing it. Here’s hoping that everyone involved can find a way to remake the FOH a place worth working in, because, without these professionals, restaurants as we know them will cease to exist.
Step one in that journey is gratitude. So, for our part: thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. We absolutely respect the job you’ve done over these impossible months, and we promise not to forget in the months and years to come that you answered the call when asked. The work you do is invaluable in keeping the social fabric of our society together—without you, restaurants don’t exist, which means neighbourhoods don’t exist, which means we’re well on our way to being little more than those energy pods from The Matrix (the original one, not the reboot that no one is seeing). With you, our life is richer, and we want you to know that we appreciate you.