• February 26, 2024

Restaurants Are Eager to Get Back to ‘Normal,’ But Status Quo Isn’t Enough

Restaurant diaries is a weekly series starring four different people working in the industry. Every week you will hear from one of them: the bartender who became the brand ambassador Jenny Feldt, the line chef Peter Steckler, the farmer Kristyn Leach and the wine educator Kyla Peal. Here, Peal shares the gaps she sees when restaurants reopen without delving into the racism and sexism considerations in the industry, what a path for restaurants might look like, and what her wine education company is like Slik wines, takes these issues into account. Read Peal’s first and second diary entries Here.

In Chicago, when winter finally breaks, the city comes alive. Everyone is outside and the patio season is in full swing! We recently had a few unusually warm days which have been good for restaurants because they need to maximize business during the short lived season. Currently, restaurants in Chicago are 50 percent capable of dining and it will be the talk of the town soon. However, with facilities reopening, I am concerned that a focus on COVID safeguards, which are extremely critical, will undermine the urgency of systemic change rather than increasing both. Restaurants are eager to go back – to pre-pivot operations, to indoor dining, to normalcy. But for me and many others the status quo is not good enough.

To be clear, I didn’t expect sexism and racism to end overnight just because Marie, Danielle and I started our wine education company. Such. But after last year – when many chefs and management have been challenged about how they treat themselves, their companies, and the people they employ – I just expected that this new chapter of the reopening would involve some kind of awareness. I thought there would be an attempt to create and maintain a healthy environment for hotel professionals that would erase the differences we talked about nationally over the past year – and have done so in industry circles for much longer.

Part of me feels that for some it was easier to acknowledge living in dual crises – coronavirus and racial injustice – when we were at the peak. After all, we were home last year and connected through our screens so it was very easy for restaurant brands to post a black square and a quick sound in support. But that was just PR now – now it’s time to act.

Photo by Alex J. Rivera

I’m not even sure restaurants can fix it. Many restaurants and companies have started to implement these diversity programs based on current developments, but such initiatives do not allow for significant changes. There is no quick fix. In order for a measure to have a meaningful effect, those in power must involve the employees in the discussion. But there is an underlying fear of these conversations. Maybe because some have never done it before. Maybe because some don’t want to be held accountable.

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