Bartenders, servers and other restaurant industry workers began pouring into the Charles River Speedway in Brighton on a Tuesday evening, but not all were there to serve food and drinks. This party was for them. They browsed records, comics, vintage clothing and handmade art while music played in the background. Notch Brewing poured beer, Topo Chico handed out free seltzes, and food was provided by Buenas and the Wanderlust Global Food Truck. Industry Night at Garage B, hosted by musician and show booker and multimedia artist Cody Rico and O’Briens Pub show booker Tyler Hallett, drew over 700 people and raised a total of $674 for a raffle for The Trevor Project and Planned Parenthood through
Industry Nights are events held in restaurants and bars that cater specifically to service industry workers. Sometimes it’s an informal gathering, other times, like in this case, it’s an organized event with vendors and DJs. It is an opportunity for people from different restaurants and bars to meet on their night and enjoy the food and drink offer. A long-standing tradition, industry nights have always rewarded service workers after busy weekend shifts, but since the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve become even more appropriate for workers who don’t have the flexibility to work from home.
Hallett has been working in kitchens for almost two decades and Rico has been bartending for seven years. “The one thing I never have to do with those people when I go on my special nights is drink with them,” Rico said. “Maybe every now and then a bartender might take a shot with you, but they might say, ‘Oh, you’re the bartender [at this place]. You make great drinks, you served me, you’re so nice. Can I buy you a beer?'” .
In the spring of 2020, food service workplaces had the third-highest occupational death rate from the virus in the state, according to researchers at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Most restaurant workers do not have paid sick leave, and service occupations had the highest percentage of hourly workers earning at or below the minimum wage, according to a 2020 study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Although industry nights do not solve the problems of labor inequality exposed by the pandemic, they offer workers benefits and a chance to enjoy a fun night out.
Rico had the idea for a massive combined industry night and contacted Hallett, who started his own monthly event for service workers at O’Brien’s. “There are a lot of nights in the restaurant industry in restaurants, but there aren’t many nights that are more focused on the music end…I think with the amazing space we have here [at the Speedway]…I think it gives more flexibility to get people in and out.”
Alec Fletcher, who runs a pop-up media and comics shop called Gotham Arcade, had a table at Industry Night selling comics, cassettes and VHS tapes. “I’ve been working in the service industry since I was 18 or 19 years old. It’s really nice to have something on Monday or [Tuesday] … so that people can actually come to it. A lot of things happen on the weekends, and we can’t go because we’re working,” he said. Fletcher, who has attended other industry events such as the Monday Industry Brunch at Trina’s Starlite Lounge, said working in the service industry means being part of a great community, but also comes with challenges, such as dealing with customers and not getting advice, above all. when servers rely heavily on tips.
Trina has organized the Monday Industry Brunch every week from noon to 4:00 p.m. since 2012 According to Emma Hollander, co-owner and director of operations at Starlite Management Company, the idea for the event was originally conceived as a way for bar staff to enjoy a meal served together by restaurant staff.
Hollander, who has worked in the service industry since he was 14, still hosts Monday’s industry brunch a decade later. He says the consistency of the event is the key to success. “We decided to put cartoons on TV. We decided that we would play loud hip-hop, and everyone would party all day. And that hasn’t changed at all,” said Hollander. The Monday Industry Brunch also served as a fundraising tool — according to Hollander, the brunches have raised $30,000 since its inception, benefiting groups like BAGLY, the Transgender Emergency Fund, and more.
Similarly, Rico and Hallett introduced a mutual support component to Industry Night. “It doesn’t take a lot of work to get a donation bin out…dropping off donations at the end of the night after some events, it takes minutes. So I don’t see why it shouldn’t be a part of almost any of them. If you come to a community, try to help the community” , Rico said.
Rico and Hallett also prepared an environment for industry workers to enjoy while organizing a food drive for community coolers. Speedway’s open-air venue for 240 people was built to mix. In the future they plan to do more industry nights every two months. “It’s going to give people in the industry a chance to connect, talk about each other’s work, spark interest in other specific parts of the industry, whether it’s food or cocktails or libations,” Rico said.
Former musician and longtime barista Gia Greene said she attended Industry Night after hearing about Rico. “I like how it not only gives people in the industry, current or former, a chance to meet each other, but it also gives people a chance to sell their products and make connections,” she said. “Looking at it now, I see many people I know from my life, people I am friends with. So everything shows that it’s such a small community, very tight, a tight scene and I’m very grateful for that.”
What makes Industry Night at Garage B unique is its focus on art and entertainment, with vendors, DJs, and even video projections. According to Rico and Hallett, there is a lot of crossover between the music and artist community and the restaurant and bar industry. “A lot of people in the industry are artists, they run labels, they run workshops, they run community organizations. They do a lot of extra things outside of work and usually work weekend jobs to finance and make those things happen. They don’t have to live the same hours as everyone else,” said Rico.
Hollander is well known for his strict hours and shifts. “Restaurant people are very underappreciated…they work hard physically and mentally. People rely on restaurants to go out to celebrate. They rely on restaurants and bars to go to mourn…it’s important that restaurant workers feel they deserve this big party in the middle of the day and take their day off and spend it with like-minded people. you can sit in the bar and say: ‘You won’t believe what happened to me on Saturday night’”.
Hollander said the more industry events, the better, especially since many restaurant workers worked through the pandemic and for a lot of money. Rico agrees, which is why they will be organizing more Industry Nights every month from now on: the next event will be at O’Brien’s on September 21st.
“We’ve taken a lot of losses lately,” Rico said, lamenting the closure of art spaces that relied on them for creative opportunities, loss of life and increased risk of serious illness. “Those losses hurt and I think it’s important to have an event where people can come together and heal.”