I Might Be Waiting Tables Again Soon and I’m Nervous
On the last shift I worked in my restaurant, business had already slowed to a trickle with fewer and fewer customers feeling comfortable going out in public, but it was before anything had truly been shutdown. That night, my husband and three of our friends came in to have a drink at the bar and keep me company since there wasn’t much else for me to do. The mood was heavy and none of us were certain of what the future was going to look like. I figured the restaurant was soon to close down for at least a couple of weeks or so. It’s crazy to think that then it seemed unfathomable that the restaurant would just shut down for two or maybe even three whole weeks. That was 15 weeks ago.
New York City has been the epicenter of the coronavirus here in the United States with over 17,000 COVID related deaths since the outbreak. The borough of Queens has been the epicenter of the epicenter with more deaths than any of the five boroughs. I live in Queens three blocks from my restaurant and this week our city is reaching Phase 2 of reopening which allows restaurants to begin dine-in service for outdoor tables only. As my restaurant struggles to devise an action plan on how to open our doors again for our customers, suffice it to say I am apprehensive. While these last few months have given me an indication of what retirement might feel like, part of me is ready to go back to work. Lately, the only schedule I have adhered to is that of dog walks, Zoom calls and at-home happy hours. Well, the dog walks and Zoom calls are meticulously scheduled, but the happy hour is pretty flexible.
If and when I go back to the restaurant, it’s going to be hard to adjust to a lot of things. The air conditioning there is really only a mere suggestion of coolness rather than actual conditioned air so with a mask covering my nose and face how will that even be tolerable? Countless other servers around the country are already dealing with it so it’s not impossible, but it won’t be comfortable. I imagine every time I see one of my customers, mask-less, laughing, and breathing in all the fresh air their lungs desire, it will be even more of a challenge to not resent them. But I’ll do it.
Washing my hands, sanitizing my pens, wiping down the menus, bleaching the tables, all the while maintaining social distance is going to be difficult. Who cares that the skin on my knuckles is like that of an onion, peeling away and flaking off bit by bit? I could wear gloves, but those are only useful if you change them every time you touch something and it’d be easy to go through an entire box in one shift, tossing each piece of latex into the garbage after a single use. An ethical decision must be made between a cleaner environment or dishpan hands. But I’ll do it.
Even more challenging will be accepting that I could be earning less money waiting tables than I would if I had stayed home and filed for another day of unemployment. New York City’s Phase 2 allows for outdoor dining at 50% capacity, but our patio is already the size of a postage stamp, so with half of those tables gone, there might not be enough turnover to pay my bills. The service I provide for customers will ramp up so that perhaps the typical 15-20% tip can edge up to 20-25%. It won’t be easy. But I’ll do it.
Of all the things that will change when my restaurant finally decides to reopen and I tie my apron around my waist again, the most formidable matter is something that wasn’t even an issue three and a half months ago. My mind and body will have to relearn that 4:45 PM means something new. That will become the time I have to go to work instead of going to my kitchen to make a cocktail and start my at-home happy hour. Muscle memory will compel me to put ice in a cocktail shaker and pour vodka over it before deciding what to binge on TV. It will be an arduous task to retrain myself from this alcohol-infused behavior. But I’ll do it. And thank god there’s vodka at work.