Restaurant staff feel the pressure during extended Le Burger Week 2021

By: Iris Dyck

Students and industry veterans alike are pushed to their limits during the annual Le Burger Week, which coincides with the start of the school year. Pictured: Lance Magnaye (left) and Erika Roque of Amsterdam Tea Room and Bar./IRIS DYCK

Work. Eat. Sleep. Repeat.

It’s a routine Winnipeg restaurant staff are all too familiar with during the first week of September when restaurants across the country compete to craft the perfect patty during the annual Le Burger Week. In celebration of their 10th anniversary, Le Burger Week extended this year’s event to two weeks, from Sept. 1-15.

The extension is a touchy topic for some.

“What if I just cry?” said Erika Roque, burying her face in her hands.

Roque, a Culinary Arts student at Red River College, had never worked in a restaurant prior to her co-op work placement at Amsterdam Tea Room and Bar. She started five days before the busiest event of the year, Le Burger Week, began – just enough time for some training.

“There was a point in Burger Week where I couldn’t get the stains out of my hands,” she said, referring to the hours she spent chopping purple cabbage.

Roque went home at the end of her 8-hour evening shifts and would “immediately go to sleep.” Head Chef Lance Magnaye worked some 14-hour days to keep on top of prepping, ordering and cooking.

“There were days when we would force him to go home,” said Roque.

Magnaye, who has over a decade of experience in the industry, knew Le Burger Week wouldn’t leave him much time for life outside work. But it was the extra week that really stretched him and his employees thin.

“Two weeks – amazing on paper. But execution-wise, it’s not good,” he said.

Small restaurants like Amsterdam Tea Room and Bar often have limited space to store the extra ingredients a new menu item needs. They also tend to keep a small staff, so when business surges for a short period like it does during Le Burger Week, employees find themselves working longer hours to get everything done.

Still, not participating in Le Burger Week means losing business to restaurants that do. 

“It’s like a cow getting herded into a slaughterhouse. There’s no other choice,” he said. “It’s either you rise to the occasion, or you just get left behind.”

Roque never tasted the burger she spent two weeks making.

“At the end, I was just so tired of it.”

But despite the exhausting pace, Roque is glad her first taste of restaurant work was with a small team that managed to stay positive. 

Magnaye says he encourages his staff with team meetings and humour in the kitchen.

“I never dread coming to work and think, ‘Ugh, I’ve got to put in another eight hours,’” he said. “That’s the last thing I want my team members to feel.”