âHeroes Work Hereâ has been a motto displayed in front of hospitals and health facilities since the start of the pandemic. For those who choose to work tirelessly, for hours to care for the sick and dying during the chaos and loss of this past year, nurses, physicians, archivists, registrars, janitors and anyone in a facility health deserves nothing less than the moon to keep the public as safe as possible.
The similarity between the traumas the healthcare field has faced day in and day out throughout this pandemic is unlike anything other industries have faced. This fact is undeniable.
Other industries, however, have faced their own challenges and trials over the past year by facing the public in person. For restaurant waiters, their livelihoods have been tied only to statewide closures and adherence to safety guidelines by their affiliated restaurant. Yet regardless of what was going on behind the scenes in their lives, they put on a mask and served us food and drink with a smile on their face.
It’s impossible to say that everyone has been affected by the pandemic in the same way, but many local restaurants, along with their staff, have gone out of their way for the Detroit community and our vibrant food scene. From chefs to dishwashers, Detroit’s restaurant industry has helped itself and served the public.
Chefs like Chef Kate Williams, owner of Karl’s, packed leftover merchandise at the start of the pandemic to help the industry and the community at large. Gift baskets filled with produce, fresh and frozen meals, toilet paper and even tampons were distributed to those who found themselves suddenly and totally out of work, with restaurants being closed by state warrant.
Chef Que Broden, owner of The Kitchen, worked overtime to pack meals and deliver them to local hospitals in order to nursing staff fed while cafeterias were closed. Broden and his team were able to provide these services as well as take out services.
Bartenders across town worked to keep the craft cocktail scene alive throughout the months they were away from behind the bar. Many have taken part in in-home cocktail contests, devised new ways to bring cocktails to take out to the community, and never let their classic cocktail creativity die.
The waiters at each restaurant who spent time with open dining rooms cleaned up, went through sticky situations, dealt with the public, while also serving restaurant patrons. Although many received money through PPE loans, there were still many wait staff, as well as bartenders, dishwashers, sous chefs, managers and others whose salary and cash intake declined throughout the pandemic.
Beyond that, many others were forced to choose between returning to serve the public before they felt comfortable. Even now, as restaurants continue to open, employees are forced to continue down this same path. But for many restaurateurs, their fear went beyond getting COVID-19 from their public interactions.
Before the start of the pandemic, waiters, bartenders, dishwashers and hosts were greeted with positions mostly based on tips with no health insurance included. As the pandemic forced everyone in the restaurant industry out of work and on state benefits, those accustomed to minimum wages and grueling work were entitled to decent wages and health care. Their fear now is that returning to the industry will result in a loss of health benefits and a decrease in the influx of money.
Some local chefs and restaurateurs such as Don Hammond, John Vermiglio and Joe Giacomino, recognize that changes in the industry must take place in order to maintain the local food scene.
Incentives that are applicable in most careers, like paid time off, health care, and paid sick leave, are a place to start, they say. If there’s one thing the pandemic has shown us, it’s that in-person group meals are something the masses enjoy.
Many in the industry do not see this break in the food scene as a problem, but as a way to solve problems that have simply been seen as orthodox. A job in the restaurant industry is a job like any other, and this time around, it’s been a time of asking and meeting the needs of those in the field.
On this Friday, May 21t, and every day before and after, keep in mind everything the hospitality industry has been doing, giving up and providing for Detroit in recent months. Extra tip for everything they have done, tirelessly, and for how much they have served the community. Say a thank you for the meal they helped put on the table for you. Most importantly, understand that this is an industry that demands a new imagination, a sense of rebirth and their own place at the table in the workforce.
Healthcare, salary increases, and paid time off are the least we can do for the waiters who have served the public throughout this world-changing year.