This year has been, to put it mildly, a rough one for the service industry. Here in Vancouver, restaurants have shut their doors and struggled to reopen, the city’s vibrant café culture has been turned on its head, and cocktail bars have navigated the difficult line between comfort and safety. You’d think at a time like this, service workers would want to talk about one thing and one thing only: the threat COVID-19 poses to their jobs and their health.
But the management at Tacofino, the B.C. taco chain with half a dozen locations and three trucks across the city, says now is the time to talk about inequality. On November 17, in the quiet 3 p.m. hour between lunch and dinner services, the restaurant will host the first of four free online workshops addressing equity in the industry, beginning with a talk on racialized groups in food service.
Taylor Chobotiuk, manager of people and engagement at Tacofino, says the COVID-19 pandemic has only made inequality in food service more visible and more pressing, from who has access to work hours to who is chosen for advancement.
“We’re seeing inequity highlighted in a big way,” he says. “I think business, and restaurants in particular, maybe they thought they were working towards diversity and inclusion and equity, but really not as effectively—or the problems are a lot deeper that they thought.”
Tacofino launched project Shift Change in 2019 as a panel discussion on everything from mental health and substance abuse to gender equality in the sector. This year, with an in-person meeting out of the question, it shifted to a monthly online speaker series.
Chobotiuk says he hopes the series will give restaurants practical tools to better serve staff and patrons from marginalized groups, such as racialized minorities and the LGBT community.
“There’s a level of compassion in the industry, and it’s always been there, but it’s getting stronger,” he says. “You’re seeing a lot of stress and collective grief that people are going through, but at the same time—if you have an open enough workplace—you’re getting people who are able to tell people how they feel, and ask for what they need. And now more than ever, people are realizing they really have to operate like a team.”
Tickets for the free event are available here.
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