Restaurant host is suddenly on the front lines of the Covid war
Caroline Young was delighted to have been hired two years ago as a host at CafÃ© PoÃªtes in Houston. She was pursuing an undergraduate degree in hospitality, so she thought the experience in fine dining would be invaluable. She wanted to be the first person to greet arriving guests.
At first, she said, most of the guests seemed happy to see her. Since the pandemic, not so much.
âI was yelled at. I had my fingers in my face. I have been called names. Something was thrown at me, “she said. A customer threw a glass of water at her feet and stormed out after repeatedly asking her to put on a mask.” I did. never been shouted like this before in my life, until I asked people to just put a piece of cloth on their face that I wore eight to 10 hours a day. “
Once upon a time, the host, or maitre d ‘in formal dining rooms, held a position of prestige and power, as the restaurant’s public face and arbiter of who got the most coveted tables. Today, the job is often entry-level and comes up against the difficult tasks of asking clients to put on masks, maintain social distancing, or show proof of vaccination. Hosts must judge whether diners have complied and deal with any flashbacks.
The new workstation on the frontlines of cultural wars has made headlines in recent weeks: hostesses were physically attacked and injured after trying to enforce Covid guidelines – in August in a Chili’s in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and this month at Carmine’s on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The three black women charged in this incident later said the host used a racial slur, but the restaurant denied this.
Women make up 81.9% of all hosts at U.S. restaurants (and 81.2% of all hosts are white), according to a 2020 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most are young, just starting out, and not making a lot of money. The office reported in 2020 that the average annual salary for hosts was $ 24,800.
âThese places take women in their twenties to fight against all these people,â said Ms. Young, who is 24 and recently resigned in frustration. “It’s emotionally and physically draining showing up for a job every day where you know you’re about to be gutted.”
In interviews, several hosts from across the country said the job had become much more difficult and dangerous during the pandemic, as they were tasked with interpreting and enforcing health rules, often without training or support. . Many customers, they said, have become enraged at the longer waits and slower service resulting from staff shortages across the industry.
âCustomers are a lot less patient,â said Brooke Walters, 24, a hostess at an upscale restaurant in Lexington, Ky., Who identifies as an agender. They demanded that the company not be named because they feared for their work. âI cry often after most of my shifts. “
âI thought this was the job you were cute for and I just walked the guests to the seats,â they added. “I was naive and I was wrong.”
Maria Antonioni, 26, a host of a Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Facility where the Houston chain is located, said a guest last week accused her of lying and yelled at her for 15 minutes after she told him there was an hour wait for a table.
Gracie Hambourger is fed up with recurring guest requests to take off her mask because they can’t hear her. âAs a 21-year-old entering the industry, I had heard stories,â said Ms. Hambourger, host at Postino, a wine bar in Denver. “But nothing like that.”
At Uchiba Japanese Restaurant in Dallas, patrons are required to wear masks even though there is no city or state mask warrant. Honor Burns, 23, said that as a host it puts her in a difficult position – she knows the mask requirement makes her more secure, but it has also led to an increase in angry customers .
Meena Rezaei, who works at Mister Jiu’s in San Francisco, lamented that hosts bear the brunt of guest dissatisfaction with health protocols, even though they tend to be among the most unhappy people. young and less experienced staff. âYou have to pretend you’re making your way and smiling at the next customer,â Ms. Rezaei, 27, said.
Staff shortages have forced many hosts to take on even more tasks.
“I turn our tables, clear the plates, take calls that should be for managers,” said Lily Bobrick, 19, host at Boca, an Italian and French restaurant in Cincinnati.
Host responsibilities have become even more onerous in cities like New York City, where proof of vaccination is required for indoor meals.
Understanding the mandates of vaccines and masks in the United States
- Vaccination rules. On August 23, the Food and Drug Administration fully approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people 16 years of age and older, paving the way for increased tenure in the public and private sectors. Private companies increasingly require vaccines for their employees. Such warrants are authorized by law and have been confirmed in court challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of their immunization status, wear masks in indoor public places in areas affected by epidemics, a reversal of guidelines it offered in May. . See where the CDC guidelines would apply and where states have instituted their own mask policies. The battle for masks has become controversial in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and universities. More than 400 colleges and universities require students to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Almost all of them are in states that voted for President Biden.
- Schools. California and New York City have both introduced vaccination mandates for educational staff. A survey released in August found that many American parents of school-aged children are opposed to mandatory vaccines for students, but were more in favor of mask mandates for students, teachers and staff who don’t. don’t have their vaccines.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and major health systems are requiring their employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19, citing an increase in the number of cases fueled by the Delta variant and stubbornly low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their hand -work.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required from workers and customers for indoor meals, gyms, shows, and other indoor situations, although enforcement does not begin until September 13. Teachers and other education workers in the city’s vast school system will need to have at least one vaccine dose by September 27, with no possibility of weekly testing. Employees of the city’s hospitals must also get vaccinated or undergo weekly tests. Similar rules are in place for New York State employees.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon has announced that it will seek to make coronavirus vaccination mandatory for the nation’s 1.3 million active-duty soldiers “no later than” mid-September. President Biden announced that all federal civilian employees should be vaccinated against the coronavirus or undergo regular testing, social distancing, mask requirements and restrictions on most travel.
Michelle Chan, 22, host of the Gray Dog coffeehouse chain in Manhattan, said she didn’t know how to tell if a vaccination card was valid or fake, or what foreign country cards looked like. “We kind of let things slide,” she said, “because we don’t know what else to do.”
âOur manager bought us this air horn to keep it at the hostess booth in case someone gets disruptive or too violent,â she said, although no one has yet had to. use.
Faced with the precariousness of the position, Michelle Ricciardi, who worked until last month at the seafood restaurant Sea Wolf in Bushwick, Brooklyn, was surprised that her manager was not more protective.
“There was someone I berated for not wearing a mask, and then my manager went to buy him a round of drinks,” said Ms Ricciardi, 27. âIt is unfortunate that so many girls and young women are getting this job and not left up there to fend for themselves.
Not all of the hosts were criticized. At the Rule of Thirds Japanese restaurant in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Jessalyn Gore, 25, said customers were pleasant and even grateful to have their vaccination cards checked, especially with the spread of the Delta variant. But she wonders if that friendliness can fade in winter, as diners wait in the cold to have their cards inspected.
Ms. Young, who quit her job as a host in Houston, is not eager to find out. She recently started as a reservist at the Granduca Hotel.
âI can talk to people on the phone,â she said. âNo face to face. Really, it’s amazing.