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A D.C. restaurateur has a new strategy to improve relations between diners and employees as the city reopens. Starting this weekend, staff members at two D.C. restaurants, Lincoln and Teddy & The Bully Bar, will look like Capitol Hill interns with lanyards around their necks. The lanyards hold grinning photos of each worker, along with their first name and sometimes their job title.
“It’s because you don’t see anyone behind a mask and that’s part of the interaction,” says PRG Hospitality owner Alan Popovsky. Unless they have X-ray vision, diners can’t see their server smiling (or scowling) back at them. Popovsky says he also feels for his staff because they can’t fully see each others’ faces.
“The staff loved the idea and it really gives people more individuality and also a more communal feeling as well,” Popovsky says. “With everything going on, I think it’s a nice touch for our guests to be able to see their server, their bartender, and the chef or cooks if they come out of the kitchen.”
Even though Popovsky says “masks suck,” he requires his employees at both restaurants to wear them and will continue to do so indefinitely for their safety. “You have customers that go around without masks now at this point and we’re trusting that everyone is vaccinated that does that. Unless they have a vaccination card, you don’t know. We’re not requiring vaccination cards, so it’s about protecting our staff more than anything else.”
The move comes as a One Fair Wage report published late last year found service industry workers experienced an increase in harassment during the pandemic, sometimes tied to wearing masks. It’s titled “Take Off Your Mask So I Know How Much to Tip You.”
Before the pandemic, PRG Hospitality had around 200 employees. Now there are only 90. Popovsky says they’re on the same page about safety. “We’ve gotten no pushback from staff whatsoever,” he says. Same with the new lanyard initiative—something Popovsky hopes others steal. “I would be delighted to see a lot of restaurants do this,” he says.