On the Frontlines of Public Policy Enforcement, Restaurant Hosts Are Bearing the Brunt of Diner Frustrations

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Welcome to Appetizers, OpenTable’s column that aims to uplift and motivate with a taste of the most inspiring food-world news of the moment. Discover the things that are making us laugh, cry, think, and just plain hungry for more. In this issue, we recognize the important work restaurant hosts do to enforce masks and vaccine requirements, a new James Beard Foundation award commitment to social justice, and Bon Appétit’s 2021 award list.

Making us … be even kinder to staff

With mask mandates and vaccine requirements for dining out in many cities, restaurants tasked with enforcing the health requirements are facing backlash from customers who refuse to comply, sometimes resulting in violent responses, according to The New York Times. The host’s job of greeting diners has expanded greatly from greeting and seating diners and answering phones — now, they’re tasked with asking people to wear masks, maintain social distancing, verifying proof of vaccination, and even flipping tables. In Dallas, where there are no city or state mandates, Japanese restaurant Uchiba has taken it upon themselves to ensure the safety of their diners and staff by requiring diners to wear masks. Host Honor Burns, 23, told the Times it puts her in a difficult position and has led to angry customers. Another host in Lexington, Ky. said she often cries after her shifts. This is a friendly reminder to be kind to hospitality workers who are working hard to keep everyone safe so we can continue to dine on and have a good time out.

Making us … look forward to change

In a year that has put social justice on the front lines, the James Beard Foundation is shifting its prestigious awards system to now require entrants to show a social justice commitment. The result of an internal audit that looked to create more inclusivity and transparency in the awards process, this new process will require entrants into awards to include a “written, video or audio statement about how their work aligns with the awards’ mission and values of equity, sustainability and community” as well as sign a code of ethics. This comes after the 2020 awards were pushed back to 2022, due to the impact of the pandemic on the restaurant industry and calls from members of the restaurant community to provide more transparency and inclusivity in the awards. The new awards mission statement attaches an additional “demonstrated commitment to racial and gender equity, community, sustainability, and a culture where all can thrive” in hopes that it can lead to a more diverse group of winners and screen for potentially problematic chefs.

Making us … congratulate

Needless to say, it has been an unusual time for the restaurant industry, so it only makes sense that Bon Appétit magazine is adjusting its Hot 10 restaurant awards to the times. The highly anticipated annual restaurant guide has been replaced with a “Heads of the Table” award list that reexamines “what it means to be an outstanding restaurant this year.” With questions like, “Who is putting others first?” and “who is making the industry better?”, Bon Appétit’s new awards come with 12 titles and winners such as “The LGBTQ+ Hub: Ursula,” “The Food Waste Hero: Sullivan Scrap Kitchen,” and “The Chinatown Champion: Send Chinatown Love.” According to the publication, the list aims to honor “the trailblazing restaurants supporting their communities, serving great food, and changing the industry for good.”

Making us … celebrate

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