I have ideas. Are they radical? It depends on who you ask.
In the midst of the imposing Covid-19 pandemic, I sat there on my bed, multitasking with the new reality of Zoom meetings and refreshed Twitter scrolls. I purposely made Twitter my go-to news outlet platform. Why? Because of sheer convenience, and the fact that it lacked the impending dissatisfaction of learning misinformation (Facebook). The headlines all resembled one another. It was a toss up of Covid death tolls, Black Lives Matter protests, and restaurant closings. Among those were an array of valid complaints and criticisms of the government’s response to the virus, and the impending doom yet to come.
As I filled my days, quarantining with roommates and eating Pizza Rolls, I couldn’t help but come across several tweets from Philly’s Marc Vetri (chef and restaurateur), that criticized Mayor Kenney’s strict lockdown rules and restrictions. It boiled down to Vetri dismissing advice from health experts and encouraging citizens (many who are unemployed and in dire need of income) to spend a hundred bucks on a tasting menu. I inevitably had to block him for my mental sanity, but made sure I gave him a good “shut the fuck up” once or twice on Twitter. Unfortunately, my anger and disgust did not stop there. Throughout the year of isolation, that was once thought to be only two weeks, I came across more infuriating tales of the hospitality industry being brandish in its flaws and vulnerabilities. For heaven’s sake, we were still recovering from the restaurant MeToo Movement. This time, capitalism and a severely flawed system got us saying “me too!”
By this point in my young life, I have already made the definite decision to never work in restaurants again. Imagine being seventeen years old and working 60 hours a week, where cleaning fryers was the least of your worries. Kitchens have traumatized me. There were plenty of times I would have to curse out co-workers, FOH and BOH, for their problematic hetero-normative behavior. Now, you are being reminded of the low wages, abuse, lack of benefits, lack of personal time, lack of resources, and more importantly lack of support. The most disappointing of it all was seeing all walks of food, writers, chefs, and restaurateurs, demanding a return. They were all blind to the elephant in the room. The entire system needed to be changed. One thing the pandemic taught us is that a lot of shit cannot go back to what it once was, especially the restaurant industry.
Do I have the answers?
However, I do have ideas that even the radical left might find extreme.
All restaurants who employ more than twenty employees, should be required to allow the unionization of their workers. A nationally operated association (think the American Restaurant Association on steroids) would oversee the union. This proposed association would also provide a Human Resources department for all workers. Wages would need to increase and staff minimum wage would be 15 US dollars an hour, regardless of regional location. Benefits would have to be offered, including health care, dental, vision, paid time off, and sick time. There would be a maximum amount of hours an employee can work a week. Goodbye 90 hour weeks. Hell, get rid of the “the customer is always right” ideology while we are at it.
The chance of this ever becoming a policy is slim to none. I am aware this would never pass congress. Watching privileged white men exploit the hardships of restaurants for their own selfish gain is traumatizing. Remember when those like Thomas Keller “advocated” for the industry by visiting the White House? I do. I will always sympathize with service workers. I was once one. This multi-billion dollar industry is always forgotten. Nevertheless, I refuse to uphold the narrative. I watched the MeToo Movement bring light to issues that have plagued the industry for decades. I read responses from men especially, who excused the abuse as simply “locker room talk.” This time, I read responses from restaurateurs who insisted on risking the lives of their workers, just to make a buck. I will not stand by the same people who continue to ignore this systemic problem. The industry needs a total makeover. Do I believe my plan could fix things? It can surely aid in the revolution.