It was February of 2020. Our superb cabal of Restaurant Awards Judges had spent the previous 10 months doing what they do best: eating out like fiends and keeping track of all the special, interesting and intriguing places they visited. Their votes had been submitted to the accounting firm of Crowe MacKay earlier in the month and in my hands were the results. All good, right? 

We all know what happened next. Public Health Orders, layoffs, closures, partial openings, re-hires, 2nd waves, closures, plexiglas, masks, closures, partial openings.....

Last September we finally published the results in a surreal setting... an online program looking back at 2019 while 2020 was on fire—literally in some parts. So. Flipping. Weird.

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Which brings us to this year's Restaurant Awards. What the hell to do? We clearly weren't going do a business-as-usual awards as if the previous 12 months were anything akin to normal. But we didn't want to skip it all together either. So we chatted with the judges, some people in the industry and some of our readers, and came up with a compromise of awards.

I suppose you could call it Restaurant Awards Lite. Yes, there will still be awards, but only eight of them. Six will honour takeout from a few key pillars (Formal, Casual, Sushi, Pizza, Chinese, Burgers), one will honour the Best Pivot (we know you're tired of the word—so are we) and the final one is the only "classic" category that we'll do this year: Best New Restaurant. Our reasoning was that there were a surprising number of new rooms that opened from late 2019 through 2020, and if we didn't revisit that category that meant that when we did come back to it next year, there'd be an unreasonable number of establishments vying for the award.

Plus, places that opened in 2020—let alone late 2019—would be at a serious disadvantage. So there you have it. Of course we asked our judging panel back to help us deal and of course the majority of them volunteered... for free. They are simply the best in the most Tina-esque sense of the word.

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The rest of the issue will focus on topics that have been far more pressing than any competition could be: the insane cost of doing business during the pandemic, the unsung courage of FOH folks and how COVID exposed some disturbing truths about the industry's future. We're also taking a look back at three decades of our Awards and highlighting some of the people and establishments that have dominated their categories to a surprising degree.

So there you have it. In the coming weeks we'll put out a shortlist of finalists who'll be vying for the awards. An in-person event is still a possibility, but it will be a low-key affair far removed from the beloved 700-person shitshow in the basement of the Wall Centre (hopefully next year we'll be back to our old debauchery). As always we're interested in your thoughts, comments and critiques. Via social media is great, but if you want to go old-school, drop me a line at nmclennan@canadawide.com and let us know what you think.