Bartenders, waiters and other workers in the restaurant industry began trickling into the Charles River Speedway in Brighton on Tuesday evening, but not all of them were there to serve food and drinks. This party was for them. They browsed through records, comics, vintage clothing and handmade art while music played in the background. Notch Brewing poured beer, Topo Chico provided free seltzers and Buenas and Wanderlust Global Food Truck provided food. Industry Night at Garage B, hosted by musician and booker Cody Rico and multimedia artist and O’Briens pub booker Tyler Hallett, drew a total of over 700 people, raising a total of $674 for The Trevor Project and Planned Parenthood through raffle.
Industry nights are events usually held at restaurants and bars that cater specifically to service industry workers. Sometimes it’s an informal gathering, sometimes, as in this case, it’s a planned event with vendors and DJs. It’s an opportunity for people from different restaurants and bars to get together on their night off and enjoy food and drink deals. A long-standing tradition, industry nights have always rewarded service workers after their busy weekend shifts, but since the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ve become even more relevant for workers who don’t have the flexibility have to work from home.
Hallett has been working in kitchens for almost two decades and Rico has been working as a bartender for seven years. “The one thing I never get to do with those people when I go on my certain nights off is drink with them,” Rico said. “Maybe here and there a bartender can take a shot with you just to be able to be like, ‘Oh, you’re the bartender from [this place]. You make great drinks, you served me, you are so nice. Can I buy you a beer?”
In the spring of 2020, food service workplaces had the state’s third-highest occupational death rate from the virus, 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 minimum wage, according to a 2020 study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While industry nights don’t solve the problems of labor inequality beset by the pandemic, they do give workers a chance to enjoy benefits and a fun night out.
Rico had the idea of organizing a huge industry night and contacted Hallett, who started his own monthly event for service workers at O’Brien’s. “Restaurants have a lot of restaurant industry nights, but there aren’t many nights that are more focused on the music end…I think with the great space we have here [at the Speedway]…it gives more flexibility to people come in and out.”
Alec Fletcher, who runs a media and comic pop-up 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. It’s great to have something going on Monday or [Tuesday] … so people can come to it. There are so many things happening on the weekend that we can’t go to because we are working,” he said. Fletcher, who has been at other industry events such as the Monday Industry Brunch at Trina’s Starlite Lounge, said that working in the service industry means being part of a great community, but also comes with challenges like dealing with customers and not being good, especially. when servers rely heavily on tips.
Trina’s hosts Monday Industry Brunch every week from noon to 4 p.m. since 2012. According to Emma Hollander, co-owner and director of operations at Starlite Management Company, the idea for the event came from the open bar staff’s desire to bring restaurant workers together to enjoy a meal they are usually busy serving.
Hollander, who has worked in the service industry since she was 14, is still bartending with Monday Industry Brunch ten years after it started. She says the consistency of the event is key to its success. “We decided we were going to put cartoons on TV. We decided we were going to play hip-hop loud, and everyone was just partying all day. And that hasn’t changed at all,” Hollander said. Monday Industry Brunch also served as a fundraising vehicle—according to Hollander, the brunches have raised $30,000 since its inception, benefiting groups like BAGLY, Transgender Emergency Fund and more.
Likewise, Rico and Hallett incorporated an assistance component to the Industry Night. “It doesn’t really take much work [to] put out a donation box…dropping off the donations at the end of the night after some events, it takes minutes. So I don’t see why it shouldn’t be a feature of almost any of them. If you’re coming into a community, try to help the community,” Rico said.
Rico and Hallett maintained an environment where industrial workers could enjoy themselves, while organizing a food drive for community fridges. The open, 240-person capacity space at the Speedway was built for mingling. They are planning more industry nights in the future on a bi-monthly basis. “It will give people in the industry a chance to connect, talk about each other’s jobs, spark interest in other specific parts of the industry, whether it’s food or cocktails or libations,” Rico said.
Gia Greene, a musician and former longtime barista, said she went to Industry Night after hearing about it from Rico. “I like how it not only allows people who are current or former industry people to get to know each other, but it gives people an opportunity to sell their stuff and make [connections] around the world ,” she said. “Even looking out now I see so many people I know from my life, people I’m friends with. So it obviously shows that it’s such a small, close-knit community scene and I appreciate 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 organisations. They do a lot of extra things outside of work and usually, to be able to register a bank and complete those things, they work in weekend jobs. They don’t necessarily have the same hours of life as everyone else,” Rico said.
Hollander is all too familiar with demanding hours and shifts. “Restaurant people are underrated… they work hard physically and mentally. People rely on restaurants to go to celebrate. They rely on restaurants and bars to go and cry…it’s important that restaurant employees feel they deserve this big party in the middle of the day and get to take their day off and spend it with people who agree with them. able to sit in the bar and be like, ‘You wouldn’t believe what happened to me on Saturday night.'”
Hollander said the more industry events, the better, especially since many restaurant workers have worked during the pandemic, and without a lot of money. Rico agrees, which is why they are going to host more Industry Nights on a monthly basis – the next event will be held at O’Brien’s on September 21st.
“We’ve lost a lot recently,” Rico said, lamenting the closure of arts spaces they relied on for creative opportunities, the loss of life and the 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.”