As the pandemic wanes, we must consider the long term impact COVID has had on our beloved industry. Our path to recovery will be a long one, but we have an obligation to approach it with vigor, and perhaps a changed outlook on how we view food and beverage.
At OrderEZ, every single member of our team has spent some time working directly in F&B. Whether busy behind the bar counter or feeling the heat of the grill or somewhere in between – we’ve all experienced the hustle and bustle, the stress and mess of meeting fast-paced demands to a standard that could not, must not be compromised. In hiring, especially during a pandemic, I felt it was important to find people that truly understood why it is that we do what we do, and could tangibly understand the real-world importance of improving the way things are done in the F&B space.
Last week in filming our podcast, Late Night Snacks, our newest hire Emilio, mentioned that when working as a line cook he was serving food he had never actually eaten. For many of us, the idea of not knowing what you’re expected to cook sounds a bit outlandish - after all, you have to appreciate the depth of the dining experience to be able to faithfully recreate it with consistency. Needless to say I was curious, after all, Emilio’s as much of a foodie as the rest of us, regularly sharing his journey through food and drink on the OrderEZ blog - why not try your own food?
Emilio’s answer, though unsurprising, highlights a serious issue within our industry. “I was making $8 an hour and paying for textbooks with what I earned at the restaurant - I couldn’t afford a $28 entrée, regardless of the staff discount, just for the experience of it.” In reflecting on it, this can’t be a unique experience, how many waitstaff or cooks or bartenders can’t afford to frequent their own places of employment? How many F&B personnel never get to experience fine dining? Mull on that a bit, I did.
With COVID, we saw unprecedented lockdowns and restrictions implemented, with the F&B industry taking massive hit after hit; hopes of improvement dashed with each new variant or wave. With no end in sight, many have left the industry for ‘greener pastures’, or effectively, a way to ensure they can support themselves and their families when there’s no certainty of when bars and restaurants could open their doors again. Who could blame them?
While absolutely understandable, we do have to ask ourselves, what have we truly lost? What if the pandemic had hit before Bourdain enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America? Would he still go through with it? What if Achatz saw his parents' restaurant struggle through the uncertainty of reopening and never opted to carry on the path to being a restauranteur? How many seeds were uprooted before they had the chance to bloom? We may never know.
The tragedy isn’t just the loss of lives and livelihood for some, but also the premature end to untold possibility - and as someone with a genuine love for food and drink, I can’t help but wonder if the cultural impact of COVID has slid under the radar while we understandably concern ourselves with the more pressing public health problems this pandemic represents.
I think I can speak for all of us that with restrictions easing, we all let out something of a collective sigh of relief. Finally, I can go back to brews and burgers at the American Taproom or Hainanese chicken rice at a Hawker stand; but really it’s so much more than that. I’m eating out and enjoying more than I ever have because I no longer take a single meal for granted, each savory dish and colorful cocktail is met with a newfound appreciation. I’m beyond thankful that we still have these places. As I look up from writing this and glance around the cafe I see smiles exchanged over cold brews, someone inextricably immersed in a book with a latte steaming at their side, and delectable pastries being selected at the cafe counter - I feel warmer inside. Nature is healing.
As we become increasingly aware of the impact of ecosystems and the unforeseen consequences of neglecting them, I think similarly on the state of the food and beverage world at large. And while I remain optimistic about the future of F&B as a whole - encouraged by the abundance of impressive new culinary experiences this little red dot seems to attract - we can’t sit idly by and just assume we’ll always be spoiled with this incredible diversity of options.
There’s a real concern here; I worry that we’re failing to nurture a love of flavor, the appreciation of culinary artisanry, a gratitude for all things gourmet. The F&B industry doesn’t exist without its wonderful people, and these people don’t exist without a shared passion for these experiences. There are easier ways to make a buck, and it’s no secret that F&B work is stressful, to say the least. So why else would they stick around if not for the love of the game? We can’t take anything for granted anymore; or who knows what next flavor innovator may find themselves seeking out a different path entirely.
Every month in our Amuse Bouche newsletter, OrderEZ does a giveaway that’s exclusive to workers in the F&B space, you have to verify you’re in the industry or we pick a different winner. It’s as simple as that. We’ve given away gift cards to famous eateries and bottles of elusive, award-winning wines to name a few, and we’re just getting started. It’s time we reinvest in the industry, not only in the outlets we support by purchasing our prizes from them, but also in empowering winners with a chance to expand their palates, in a way giving folks a chance to fall back in love with food and beverage all over again.
Thanks to the collective efforts of the community and modern medicine our darkest days are behind us, and that brings some much-needed comfort. But we can’t fall victim to complacency either - our community needs us. For us foodies and lovers of F&B, we need to make a concerted effort to support not only local restaurants, bars, cafes, and other F&B outlets, but the people that run them as well. Behind every celebrity chef or master mixologist is a brigade of hard-working professionals that deserve respect, recognition, and encouragement.
First responders are rightfully respected for their role in helping us get through the pandemic, but how about first providers? The cooks, waitstaff, managers, bartenders, delivery drivers, suppliers, the list goes on. It’s high time we extend that appreciation to those that do what we can’t or won’t, and do so all while exhibiting the spirit of hospitality - we might lose them to other pursuits if we don’t.
For us at OrderEZ, in addition to our commitment to leverage technology to improve the way things are run, we have a renewed commitment to do more and to do better. We’ll continue to patron local outlets as much as possible (both for personal dining and for giveaway prizes), do our best to give more F&B professionals opportunities to try some of the best food and drink Singapore has to offer, and encourage the people around us to remember that hospitality is a two-way street. With our love for food and drink comes a previously unspoken obligation to invest in the future of food. We’re speaking it aloud now, in the hopes that the community at large is no longer taken for granted. To our friends in the space, we’re thankful for your efforts, you’re appreciated - and in short, we look forward to seeing you around.