The art of dining out is a crucial one that is being lost to today’s pandemic.
Do a search for restaurants closing in your city. We are facing the loss of decades-old restaurants and catering halls. We’re witnessing a steep rise in jobless chefs and waitstaff. Losing these social icons over this past year has an impact on our own humanity and culture.
Look up Guy Fieri and see what might make someone a good citizen. He has raised more than $21.5 million to assist unemployed restaurant workers. It’s the most anyone has raised for the sinking industry.
The Disappearing Restaurants
When news of the pandemic first hit and restaurants began shutting their doors, I still considered myself a chef in the foodservice industry. But I took the easy out. I found an academic library job midway through 2020.
Others haven’t been so lucky. I have a friend, a former campus chef manager, who was able to get a furlough for a few months. Good news: this meant he’d receive a small paycheck for a while—just long enough for the anxiety to set in—but ultimately he was let go.
I’ve watched former colleagues post on social media about the dramatic sacrifices they’ve made on a now sinking ship. The owner of one restaurant where I used to work was moved to tears on local television in Cleveland because he had to let go of his staff. Some people had worked there for twenty years.
Friends are furloughed, others are unemployed and reach out for emergency funding donated specifically for foodservice. Other people take hourly roles below their experience. Support groups post on where to go, how to survive, and who might be hiring. The lines are all too long.
Food banks have become another dining experience.
I have seen uninsured waiters serving tables during a deadly pandemic just to make ends meet. If lucky, their restaurants may only get a curfew instead of having to shut their doors permanently.
There is panic.
So order out and order often. That’s what was said during the first six weeks of lockdown. It sounded so neat and packaged, something for people who need municipal programs like “small business Saturday” to get into their community.
But maybe “order out, order often” doesn’t answer the larger, long-term questions. What exactly is wrong right now with the way we dine? Why are people who’ve worked in the fast food industry for years still earning poverty level wages? Why can’t health insurance be made available to essential, at risk workers like waitstaff?
I have an old food prep friend who still works at grocery stores. She’s in tears after taking her mask off after work. She is essential—it is March. Time passes and she gets cursed out and stressed out and has no idea what is going on in the world, but knows she’s lucky enough to get paid. She is essential—it is January. Again and again, she takes her heavy mask off every day.
The James Beard Fund for Black and Indigenous Americans
These anecdotes, these figures and misfires, inspired The Art of Everyone to invite the Art of Dining to our Architectural issue this quarter. We have all seen restaurants’ ghostly spaces with chairs turned over on tables in our neighborhoods, or with wood panel-covered windows, as if predicting a hurricane. We trust the Art of Dining Out will be restored in the near future because we believe it’s essential to our culture.
But in the meantime we can’t remain indifferent to the hardship restaurants face right now. And one thing that hasn’t been discussed here, but has very much been a factor in the past year, is the disparity in the way that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color have borne so much of the weight of the crisis, both as it pertains to Covid and a repressive culture overall. That’s why we are offering our readers the possibility to donate to the James Beard fund addressing this specific issue.
Have a look at their explanation for the fund, which begins:
2020 has been a year of long overdue upheaval and introspection, across the wider society and within the food and beverage industry. Inequity and racial disparity have jumped into the national spotlight, but there have always been problems in the larger food system. According to a report by NPR, the gap has been greatest in higher-end and fine-dining restaurants where the white staff members tend to make up the majority of front-of-house (higher-paid) employees, while Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) tend to make up the majority of back-of-house (lower-paid) employees.
How can you participate?
Simply read and enjoy the work posted here. If the art of someone compels you to donate money, you’ll find a link in the yellow box at the bottom of each post. During our Architectural Issue (which will run until March 31), The Art of Everyone will be matching donations.
Also, is there a food bank in your community that you support and want us to know about? We would love to support it too. Check out our Support page where you can fill out a form to give us more information.