For those in the restaurant industry, there is relief in returning but anxiety about what lies ahead.

Now that we have entered Stage 2 of Ontario’s reopening and COVID-19 restrictions have eased on personal care services and large outdoor gatherings, a spotlight has begun to shine on the hospitality industry and what this new normal will look like for them.

While outdoor dining (which has been permitted since the province entered Stage 1 on June 11) has brought some relief to industry members who have been in a rather precarious situation, for others , it triggered a lot of mixed emotions, ranging from general discomfort to stress, as bigger concerns continue to loom.

From anxiety and general exhaustion to concerns about sales, costs and the risk of further restrictions coming with new variants, there are issues to consider as individuals rush to enjoy the convenience of a cold pint on a neighborhood patio as vaccination rates rise. .

A new online survey conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies shows that more than half of Canadians reported feeling anxious about returning to what life was like before the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, 41% feel some level of anxiety, sharing that they support requiring people to show proof of COVID vaccination to participate in various activities.

“Things are very different now,” says Alexis Kronwald-deBruyn, who works as a waiter in Toronto. “Not only do we have no budget for hosts and support staff, but we have to fill in the gaps to make it all work. We don’t have the budget and there’s no one left to do the work because everyone has found a better way to make money without the same stress of working in a restaurant.

Canadian Restaurants reported that, since March 2020, nearly 10,000 restaurants have closed, and for those who were able to make it out alive, the margins are slim.

Kristen Daigle, beverage manager who lives in Hamilton, shares that the effects of the continued lockdowns have left some staff nervous. “Opening a restaurant is an incredibly difficult and very stressful thing to do and we’ve all done it three times in the last calendar year. It’s a lot, in terms of organization, in terms of staff training and everyone does its best to make it as smooth as possible.

Daigle also adds that while she and many others are excited to get back to work, some have moved on, which means restaurants have faced a labor shortage since the pandemic essentially forced people to quit their job. “A lot of my friends who worked (in the industry) just decided to leave for something more stable,” she says. Better pay, weekends off and regular hours are just a few of the reasons people have decided not to look back.

Over the past year, Canadian hospitality workers and Canadians as a whole have experienced what many call collective trauma. “I certainly hear that the tension is very high and the stress is very high. Anxiety is obviously part of that, but I think it’s a multi-layered experience,” says Hassel Aviles, executive director of No 9 to 5a global non-profit organization focused on mental health advocacy for the restaurant industry.

Aviles notes that there is still a lot of uncertainty in the industry, which worries workers, owners and operators. “People have invested tens of thousands of dollars in equipment, personnel, labor or training to have to pack it all up – it’s so traumatic to have to lose that much. Although people are excited to reopen, I think there is a lot of fear right now and fear stirs up a lot of other emotions. »

This year alone, Not 9 to 5 received funding to create a Survey on mental health in catering and hospitality, which will present a more complete picture of mental health and addiction in the restaurant and hospitality industry. To date, 700 hospitality workers from across North America have responded, 85% of them in Canada. Currently, 86% of respondents said they suffer from burnout and 61% said their mental health issues have intensified due to the pandemic.

It has been a year not just of a global pandemic, but of social and racial awareness – the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, the residential school tragedy, the attack on the United States Capitol building – which makes it even more difficult to completely isolate ourselves from what is happening in the world.

“Trauma manifests differently for everyone,” says Aviles. “The reason I bring this up is that in restaurants they have often been extremely negligent when it comes to workplace mental health and, in my opinion, they have completely overlooked that it exists. They can’t ignore it anymore.

After the pandemic is over, the effects of this trauma can linger in the labor market for years. Lisa Quigley, events manager in Toronto, says she would like to see more restaurant owners work on running not just a physically safe workplace, but a psychological one.

“Things have been difficult and I know we are all delighted to be here. But then you realize a lot of us haven’t been through the same pandemic,” she continues, noting that people have different life experiences, family issues, or other things to deal with. “I think it’s so important to create a healthy work environment because everyone wants to get back to normal, but normal wasn’t really good for so many people.”

Despite the devastation of the pandemic, players in the hospitality industry have an opportunity for growth: getting people to pay right across the board and putting more mental health resources in place, for example, which Aviles and other advocates have been asking for years.

“You have to pay people at least a living wage, even if they’re dishwashers, it doesn’t matter,” says Kronwald-deBruyn. “There are still people who have to pay their bills and need to be able to survive at the end of the day.”

Until then, when you go out to your local, try to be nice and patient with your server. Quigley said.

“I wish people would realize that dining out is a privilege, not a right. Even before the pandemic, dining experiences for some are a luxury. There’s a reason people love it: it’s is special and that’s why I love hospitality.

“There are so many functional elements to create that experience that everyone is looking for when dining out. Just recognize that the people who serve you are human and deserve to be treated with respect and that, as with everything, the cost of things may even increase.

Correction – July 2, 2021 – This article has been updated to correct Lisa Quigley’s job title.

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Cecil N. Messick