By Stephanie Swensrude

As restaurants across Edmonton reopen for dine-in guests, servers and hosts are having mixed feelings about being back at work.

Amina* is a host at a classy, up-scale steakhouse. Before COVID, the restaurant had a bustling, yet relaxed atmosphere. Come Friday night, the front door opens to a packed lobby, where a half dozen groups are lined up for a table. They sample appetizers from a plate brought out by a manager, the guests ordered drinks already, and they clink their glasses. A server walks by in a tiny black dress with flawlessly applied makeup, the picture of sexiness and class.

This scene was typical of the average pre-pandemic night at Amina’s restaurant. Sharing appetizers and waiting beside strangers in lobbies is a thing of the past. She says that many customers are now entitled and rude when they dine in.

“The customers are a little bit more aggravated these days … when they walk in, they just walk right past me,” said Amina.

“Very few people are actually following [the guidelines],” she said. When one customer was asked to follow the one-way indicators, he said, “No, the arrows are stupid.”

“I think I’ve seen a single customer wear a mask,” she said.

“I wish people would just slow down for a second and realize that things aren’t normal right now,” Amina said. “They can’t act the same way as they did before.”

Amina also mentioned that business is slow.

“There’s only been one day where we were at capacity: Father’s Day,” she said. When customers try to seat themselves, she has to stop them because every second table must be kept clear.

“People get kind of frustrated sometimes because they can see that it’s open but we’re just not seating it,” she said.

Personal protective equipment has also changed the atmosphere of the restaurant. Before the restaurant closed, most of the servers would be wearing tight, short dresses and stilettos, with glamorous makeup and perfectly coiffed hair.

The servers now wear baseball hats attached to plastic face shields or standard cloth face masks. As a result, the dress code has relaxed, and many servers wear pants and flat shoes with their hair in a ponytail.

This may seem like a tiny change, but Ashley*, Amina’s coworker, is glad she can wear more comfortable clothes to work.

“It’s a bit of a blessing and a curse because I know a big part of the appeal of [this restaurant] was the hot girls in the lounge,” she laughed. “But I always hated having to wear heels and stuff to work, and if I wear a mask, I don’t have to do makeup on half of my face.”

In an industry tied to looks, these are huge changes for both staff and customers.

“The people who come in are used to perky smiling girls who look like Playboy bunnies,” said Ashley. “Now, they don’t get that.”

“I think that it might change for good in some restaurants, and we won’t have to dress so fancy anymore,” she said.

Ashley hopes that people realize that guidelines are only in place to keep people safe.

“It just takes an extra minute to follow the rules and walk the right way down the aisles and whatnot,” she said. “We’re doing it for your safety.”

*Details changed to protect identity.