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The return of Winterlicious has management optimistic about the opportunities it presents—but staff are already stressed.
The annual event, which runs from Jan. 26 to Feb. 8, will see more than 200 restaurants offer prix fixe lunch and dinner menus. Though this serves as an opportunity for people to enjoy the city’s diverse cuisine, staff inside these restaurants believe this enjoyment is being had at their expense.
“We have to accommodate for 20 per cent more capacity and be ready for the challenges that presents for not only us but our guests,” said Andre Gordon, a server at Miss Likklemores, a Caribbean-inspired restaurant on King Street West. “I’ve seen anything from crazy request type guests, to guests who don’t usually dine out and therefore do not understand tipping culture.”
According to Gordan, servers depend on tips as their largest source of income. When not tipped accordingly, they can often lose money, considering some restaurants require servers to tip out as much as eight per cent of sales to kitchen staff.
Ethan Fernandes worked as a busser at King Taps during the Winterlicious event last year. He said there is trickle-down effect when servers are not tipped, since they give a part of their tips to bussers.
“I’d be bussing more tables and doing more work but not getting paid any more than usual because of lower bills and fewer tips,” said Fernandes. “It’s stressful because you see so many people and you think you’re doing well but in reality, you are not.”
Restaurant general managers see the event through a different lens. “Winterlicious is a great opportunity to showcase food and service, as it gives people the opportunity to try plates they may have not tried before.” said Kale Cummings, general manager at Cactus Club on King Street West.
The City of Toronto told the Toronto Observer that Winterlicious’ goal is to help increase revenue for restaurants around the city. It also aims to give exposure to participating locations during the slow dining months of January and February.
Ali Nassrallah, former general manager at Miss Likklemores, believes staff have the wrong mindset when working Winterlicious. “People just want to make quick money and don’t enjoy the opportunity of hosting new people inside their doors,” said Nassrallah in a phone interview. “I take great pride in the food I work around and always want to be a part of Winterlicious. The more people that can try our food the better.”