The restaurant host is suddenly at the forefront of the Covid war

Caroline Young was thrilled to have been hired two years ago as a host at Cafe Poêtes in Houston. She was pursuing an undergraduate de...


Caroline Young was thrilled to have been hired two years ago as a host at Cafe Poêtes in Houston. She was pursuing an undergraduate degree in hospitality, so she thought the foodie experience 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.

“I 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 his feet and stormed out after repeatedly asking him to put on a mask. “I’ve never been shouted like this before in my life, until I asked people to just put a piece of cloth over 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 employment perch on the frontlines of culture wars has made headlines in recent weeks: hostesses were physically attacked and injured after trying to enforce Covid guidelines – in August at 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 had used a racial insult, but the restaurant denied it.

Women make up 81.9% of all guests at American restaurants (and 81.2% of all hosts are white), according to a Report 2020 from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Most are young, new to the business and not making a lot of money. Office declared in 2020 that the average annual salary for hosts was $ 24,800.

“These places take women in their twenties to fight against all these people,” said Ms. Young, who is 24 and recently resigned in frustration. “It’s emotionally and physically draining to show 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.

“Customers are a lot less patient,” 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. “I cry often after most of my shifts. “

“I thought this was the job you were cute for and I just walked the guests to the seats,” they added. “I was naive and I was wrong.”

Maria Antonioni, 26, host in a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, venue for the that of houston chain, 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. “As a 21-year-old entering the industry, I had heard stories,” said Ms. Hambourger, a host at Postino, a wine bar in Denver. “But nothing like that.”

At the Japanese restaurant Uchiba, in Dallas, guests 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 Mr. 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 youngest and least experienced on staff. “You have to pretend you’re making your way and smiling at the next customer,” Ms. Rezaei, 27, said.

Staff shortages have forced many hosts to take on even more tasks.

“I turn our tables, clear the plates, I 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.

Michelle Chan, 22, an animator at a Manhattan facility in Gray dog chain of cafes, said she did not know how to tell if a vaccination card was valid or fake, or what cards from foreign countries looked like. “We kind of let things slide,” she said, “because we don’t know what else to do.”

“Our manager bought us this air horn to keep it at the hostess booth in case someone gets disruptive or too violent,” she said, although no one has yet had to. use.

Faced with the precariousness of employment, Michelle Ricciardi, who worked until last month at the seafood restaurant sea ​​bass in Bushwick, Brooklyn, was surprised her manager wasn’t 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. “It is unfortunate that so many girls and young women are getting this job and not left up there to fend for themselves.

Not all hosts have been criticized. At the Japanese restaurant Rule of thirds in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Jessalyn Gore, 25, said guests 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 Granduca Hotel.

“I can talk to people on the phone,” she said. “No face to face. Really, it’s amazing.

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