A Working Family

These are pressing times indeed. Whether you are hoarding the many rolls of toilet paper from fear of shitting yourself, or living in absolute denial of this thing, “begrudgingly” staying home or closing shop with work. We are all affected by this pandemic, and for most us, we will be unable to make an income during this time. Many business owners are in the weeds because their lease and other bills are rising to the surface, creating panic and distress with the event, so they cling to anything to remain open and make a buck. It is a sad time in that regard, but now that Justin Trudeau has put forth some economic fail safes for businesses and employees alike, we can all breath easy till we can get back on track and provide further growth for the country. However, I wanted to parallel my previous post, one where I noted how some businesses are only now taking action in putting their employees health and safety first. I have seen some businesses continue to put their employees first, and I wanted to share that, and to note that even in the most dire of times, you never leave those that helped you get to where you are.

I was sitting at a bar the other day, the last day before everything was forced to close due to the federal governments public health notice on closures of businesses. Now, going out might appear to be a rebellious act right now since social distancing is heavily talked about, what with posts and “ads” speaking negatively against it, but I wanted to support my local businesses while trying to be social in some way or another. I was never one for sitting idly by while twiddling my thumbs. Anyway, while at one my favourite bars, I ran into a bartender that I knew from my time training. She was with a friend who also worked with her, and they were in the same boat as me, providing support to local pubs while maintaining some level of communal atmosphere. The bar I was in was also the only one open, so that may of been a part of it. I couldn’t help but join in on their conversation with those around them, and I learned of the decision making process that the owners of their bar went through. Prior to their arrival, they attended a staff meeting where they were told the news of their closure. Despite the bad yet inevitable news, it sounded like they had a good time, with drinks and food abound, and the fact that they were still able to celebrate St. Patrick’s day was pretty cool if you ask me. Still, it remains to be a silver lining in all this, but let me speak about these steps the owners took.

For one, the owners have provided two weeks pay while the staff are in a state of quarantine. For some businesses, this is most likely expected, along with sick days and vacation days, but restaurants aren’t exactly keen on following rules that aren’t set by unions, so this was unheard of to me, not to mention that the pay they were providing to their 20 person staff came out of their own pockets. I was shocked, but I was overcome with emotion, a joyful empathy as I have not received that kind of treatment during my time in restaurants. The bartender exclaimed her adoration for the owner, but also mentioned how stressed she was the night prior, wondering what would become of her staff. At the time of this decision, there wasn’t a guarantee that their insurance company would cover the losses they were going to suffer because it wasn’t clarified as a “forced closure.” The fact that they still chose to forego their own finances to ensure their staff is secure – even for a little bit – amazed me. The fact this was something that caused stress for the owners also surprised me, and I could feel myself getting a little emotional – like I said, unheard of in restaurants.

The second thing they talked about was how they were indefinitely laided off, but were provided with records of employment (ROE) so they could instantly apply for employment insurance (EI). From the bars I visited, this was happening all around, so this sounded normal to me. However, what I was told was how the owners supplied information that would help them get the most from their claim, and they took the time to speak with everyone individually on how to go about it. Again, I was floored by this. This was above and beyond what I was used to, I mean, who takes the time to make sure that their staff is secure and essentially safe during what might be a long lay off?

As we talked, I learned that a lot of the staff have been at this bar for years and years, with the longest tenured employee lasting 20 years. The bartender said gleefully “Whenever people come in to apply, we usually don’t take resumes. We never need to do any hiring.” Trust me when I say turnover in restaurants is incredibly high, and that usually stems from the attitude that the staff are easily replaceable. But not this bar, the feeling of solidarity and familial bonds sounded quite strong.

Restaurants have that family feeling about them, because usually when the going gets rough, you are all in it together; same with the successes as everyone contributed to them, whether night or day. I also think turnover in some places stems from the stigma of bars and restaurants not being real careers. I mean, how many of you reading this worked a bar gig or serving gig while going to school? Admittedly, it isn’t the most glamorous of work, and female servers and bartenders have a lot of shit to put up with, namely drunk patrons that try to touch or fondle them, or harassment in general. Though, the irony is that many workplaces still experience this level of harassment, despite being a professional environment. So is the unglamorous nature really why bartending and serving isn’t a career?

I was overhearing a orientation meeting for the staff of this new bar opening, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The manager was speaking about the safety and well being of the staff being number one, and if anyone presents a problem, or sexually harasses them, or anything, that patron – even a staff member – will be escorted out, no questions asked. And after talking with some of the staff, they only spoke wonders of the managers and owners, with many of the staff also being long-term. Considering how harassment is still rampant, this made me happy, but it also made me sad as this bar/night club had more to offer then an actual office would. The times are certainly changing, and it made me happy to hear anyway. I used to hear so many complaints when I worked in bars/restaurants about harassment, but because they were paying customers, the service staff had to deal with it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the bar I was initially talking about had a similar meeting with their staff, it sounds like they would.

As I am writing this, I wonder what is it that defines a career? I suppose a job that requires an undergrad or graduate degree is one thing, maybe wearing a suit and receiving perks like benefits and vacation pay is another; however I notice that what you define as a career is entirely up to you. The happiest people I know have jobs they actually enjoy and are good at, despite the financial ramifications, while the most miserable ones that cope in unhealthy ways have jobs they really don’t like, despite the fact those jobs pay well and provide all manner of perks. I digress.

Now that the Liberal government is putting forth a bill to help support those small businesses from needing to lay off workers, and insurance benefits as well, I imagine many more places will follow suit. However, taking care of staff should be one of the top priorities – regardless of a pandemic. If your staff are disgruntled or unhappy with the current situation at work, how motivated will they be at selling and providing good service for you? You can fire and hire till someone sticks to the wall, but sometimes, like with children, caring and guiding them to be the very best they can be only benefits you and everyone else, namely customers, the ones actually paying the bills. Granted, having an undergraduate degree on your resume does allude to good work ethic and being ready to work, but from my experience, it is still a piece of paper – an important one no less. I knew a chef that got his journeyman’s for cooking before starting at the restaurant I worked at, and let me tell ya, he couldn’t cook himself out of a paper bag. I knew a chef that had his red seal (the journeyman’s paper) and was hired on to be the sous chef, and frankly, he couldn’t do anything either. Anyway, mini-rant aside, seeing this level of care was amazing, and to me, they are leading by example.

As the bar was closing shop, we all parted ways on happy terms, air elbow-bumping on the way out. It is times like these that remind me how close we all really are.

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