Restaurant workers dealt with the issue time and time again over the past year: patrons refused to wear masks, or wore them improperly, or didn't wear them when interacting with servers. Mask mandates in various jurisdictions either weren't clear, or not clearly communicated or enforced — and it fell to private businesses to enforce them. Now, many state and local governments have removed those mask mandates. It's a game-changer for restaurants.
"Having that lifted is huge. And I think it's huge for all restaurants," Amanda Cohen, owner and James Beard-nominated chef at Dirt Candy, an acclaimed vegetarian restaurant on New York City's Lower East Side, told Yahoo Finance Live. "I think we all felt like the COVID police."
That said, restaurants are still facing challenges. Cohen, for example, is slowly paying back rent that went unpaid during the pandemic. She has seen her food costs rise and has raised her prices in turn.
But there's one issue that isn't affecting Cohen: labor shortages. She's been a longtime proponent of restaurant worker equity, and eliminated tipping at her restaurant in 2015. She said most of her employees make about $25 an hour, plus health benefits and extra paid time off and sick days. She said the idea of pay stability is attractive to many restaurant workers.
She's hopeful that more of her peers will adopt a no-tipping policy post-pandemic. Danny Meyer's Union Square Hospitality Group ended tipping and then started it again, as have some other fine-dining establishments in New York City.
Cohen remains passionate about the no-tipping model.
"We spend the last year calling restaurant workers essential, and we celebrated them. I think on the other side of this, most people don't want to go back to taking advantage of it and they don't want to go back to being taken advantage of," she said. "We have all learned a lot over the past year of what it means to work in a restaurant, so the idea of no tipping, while I know some people can't wrap their heads around it — it's really to protect our employees, to make sure they have a stable paycheck every single week."