Empathy and understanding: these are concepts that are not beyond the means of normal human decency, but have begun to be placed on the back burner in the age of COVID-19. This is especially the case in the service industry. As a person who has worked in the restaurant industry for years, my coworkers and I can handle the occasional lack of understanding from customers. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changing the world we live in, the way customers treat people in the service industry has drastically changed as well.
I am currently working on a podcast delving into the experiences of people working in the service industry similar to myself. I feel it is of the utmost importance to let the people in our restaurants, grocery stores and retail establishments have their voices and perspectives be heard.
While interviewing a friend who works in a restaurant as well, something she said resonated with me deeply. “There is an overwhelming assumption in the restaurant industry that things will operate and be the same as they were pre-pandemic and that simply is not the case. We are all working 10 times harder with about 10 times less of the reward back. Customer expectations need to account for the fact that things are not going to be how they used to be for a very long time.” It is more than evident that expectations need to be adjusted for how we conduct our lives in this new pandemic-world we live in, and this includes how restaurants operate.
We are all working 10 times harder with about 10 times less of the reward back.
My restaurant shut down around the second week of March. After about three months of all restaurants being shut down, Pennsylvania moved to the “Green Phase” in June and allowed outdoor seating at restaurants. I was called back to work mid-June, and my job looked and operated drastically different than previous to COVID-19. Masks were now mandatory, for obvious reasons, as well as gloves in my specific restaurant. Delivering food to tables had to be done via tray instead of carrying plates, and frequent handwashing and table sanitizing became the norm. Far gone were paper menus, and in their place came QR code scannable menus, much to the distaste of many non-tech savvy customers. While working on my podcast, I discussed the new procedures within my restaurant job with one of my friends. He has been working in retail throughout the entirety of the pandemic and he informed me that he has the option to not interact with a customer if he feels uncomfortable. Servers, on the other hand, rarely have this option with the nature of the regulations at place in regards to dining out.
The restrictions placed within the restaurant industry, specifically, are important and integral for us to be able to operate safely, but what I do think customers fail to sometimes remember is how much harder our jobs are now. While I hear many customers gripe and groan about having to wear a mask for five minutes to walk into the restaurant and sit at a table, my coworkers and I are wearing masks for hours on end, having to handle people’s dirty dishes and interact with people in a close setting. A notable thing to remember, as well, is that the main purpose of masks is to protect others. My mask protects you, and your mask protects me. People in the restaurant industry, even more specifically servers, are having to interact with people without masks on all the time, sometimes even 30-40 people a day, essentially continuing to expose themselves. Obviously, you cannot eat and drink with a mask on, but the consideration of customers to understand the danger we put ourselves in everyday can go a long way. My friends and I in the restaurant industry have had customers try and lean in close to talk to us, even as we back away, asking us to take our masks off and about every other dangerous possibility one could think of.
My mask protects you, and your mask protects me.
As restrictions have begun to become slightly more relaxed with the allowance for indoor seating and larger groups being able to go out to eat, tipping accordingly has also been on the decline. Right in the beginning of reopening, my friends and I working in restaurants noticed an increase in customers tipping generously, which was immensely appreciated. These types of customers still exist today, but are unfortunately sometimes drowned out by the exponential downswing of adequate tipping. In Pennsylvania currently, the going rate for servers is around $2.83 an hour plus tips, and that hourly rate goes nearly entirely to taxes in the end. What you tip your server is what they make that day. If you tip your server less than 20% or not at all, with tip outs to bartenders and bussers, that server is essentially paying their own money to serve you. It is becoming apparent that as we get further in the pandemic and some restrictions begin to ease up, some customers are not as willing to go the extra mile or even tip the bare minimum in the belief that business is better and people don’t need the extra help. Many servers across the country have and still are filing for partial unemployment while still working. Hours a restaurant is open and available shifts have decreased on top of more time being dedicated in a shift to sanitation. Now more than ever is the time to tip your server, accordingly.
Going out to restaurants with friends and family to catch up and to celebrate birthdays and holidays has become a long-standing societal routine for Americans, along with frequently attending retail and grocery establishments as well. COVID-19 threw a wrench in that routine, and with restaurants and stores reopening, it only makes sense people want to get back to the activities they once enjoyed with their families and friends. On behalf of myself and my fellow people in all facets of the service industry, we implore you to remember the unprecedented times we are living in. To tip your servers accordingly, be kind to your grocery store checkout person and the retail employees greeting you at the door to your favorite store. We as a nation are trying to get through this pandemic the best we can — just please don’t forget about the people that make your routines possible.
Madison Ogborn is a fourth-year Communications major with dual minors in Journalism and Spanish. MO883968@wcupa.edu