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This Is How Some Restaurants Are Staying Afloat During COVID

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There’s no denying that the pandemic has dramatically affected every person and every business in our country. While we all wait for lives to return to (a new?) normal by way of a vaccine or common sense, business owners are struggling to devise new ways to stay in operation. Retailers have relied on online ordering, offices have leaned on Zoom, and airlines wait for the next multibillion dollar bailout from the government. In September, a survey by the National Restaurant Association found that 1 in 6 restaurants (representing 100,000 restaurants) have either closed down permanently or long-term. For the ones that have managed to stay open, they have turned to takeout orders and outdoor dining, but there is one consistent aspect that has kept some restaurants afloat: their regulars.

I have worked in the same small neighborhood restaurant for almost ten years and over that time, many customers have become my “regulars.” Restaurants have always depended on their regular clientele, but their presence is even more important now. From Kevin who comes in every week for an arugula salad, salmon, and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to Pat and Richard who will always order whatever the special is, they have become part of my weekly routine. When our restaurant shut down in March and I would see them in the neighborhood while walking the dog or buying groceries, they always wanted to know when we would be reopening because they were ready to support us. When we finally did reopen for takeout only, Pat and Richard were one of the first ones who called to place orders.

After we began outdoor dining, Kevin was there as soon as the patio furniture had been wiped down. Even with a drastically reduced menu, Ann and Jerry still place a pickup order every week, no matter how tired they must be of eating baby back ribs. These are the people who are helping my restaurant stay open by continuing to support us and they extend their generosity when it comes to tipping. No matter how much effort I put in to serving them, I certainly do not earn what they tip me, but I do appreciate it.

Regulars want their favorite restaurants to stay open just as much as the restaurant staff does. At the beginning of the pandemic, they were the ones buying gift cards from restaurants that weren’t even open again yet. When takeout was the only option, regulars were the ones who wouldn’t use delivery apps just so that all the money they spent would go to the restaurant itself instead of only a portion of it. Another server tells the story of their regulars who brought their own beer and drank it on the patio of their closed restaurant so the staff would know they had customers ready to drink as soon as they reopened.

Rosie’s is a Mexican restaurant on New York City’s Lower East Side that I consider myself to be a regular of. When asked about regulars, they summed it up perfectly. While they admit it’s an honor for their regulars to come back time and time again, “it is just as important, more than ever, to create new ‘regulars’ by giving everyone that enters our doors the same quality of menu and service that we offer those that have been coming to us over the past 5 years.” They really get it.

Every customer that goes into a restaurant for the first time is a potential future regular. As a server, I try to keep that in mind because regulars are the ones who can be our lifelines. On a slow night they have the ability to turn a shift around and during a global pandemic they can help a restaurant stay open. They like being in a place where everybody knows their name and we like having customers we can depend on. Even though there are still almost 2.5 million fewer restaurant jobs in this country than there were in February, there are even more future regulars out there waiting for the restaurant industry to bounce back. If you are a restaurant regular or you hope to be one some day, please know that any restaurant will welcome you with open arms. If there’s one thing anyone takes away from this article, I hope it’s the knowledge that restaurants truly appreciate our regulars.

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Bitchy Waiter

Bitchy Waiter

Darron Cardosa is a writer, actor, singer, and waiter. He lives and and works in New York City and enjoys "The Brady Bunch," "The Facts of Life" and cocktails almost as much as he hates your baby.

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