What It’s Like To Be a Server Right Now
Ask a server what it’s like to wait tables in the age of Covid and, depending on the state they live in, the answers can be as varied as box of herbal teas. I live and work in New York City. A year ago, my borough of Queens was the epicenter of the epicenter with more cases here than in any other borough of New York City. My restaurant shut down along with the rest of the city last March and then reopened for to-go in May. I put the apron back on along with a mask in late June. Over time, we’ve slowly inched up to 50% capacity indoors as New Yorkers patiently wait for more spring-like weather to make outdoor dining more tolerable.
Here in New York, restaurant workers became eligible for the Covid vaccine in early February, so I spent two full days refreshing my computer screen until I found an appointment. It required a 90-minute subway ride to the Bronx, but I eagerly took the the train to get the jab. My second dose was on March 5th. I can now go to work and feel more safe than I did before I got the vaccination. The majority of my customers are very respectful and since I work in a small restaurant with just me and the chef/owner on a shift, I feel relatively comfortable being there. That’s not the case for everyone who works in a restaurant.
Livi is a server who work at an IHOP in Iowa and she’s frustrated. “It’s almost like people just don’t care very much anymore. People are still dying, obviously, but I feel like nobody wants to wear a mask, nobody wants to get vaccinated. Really, life has resumed back to normal. Social distancing is gone.” It’s not normal though. The Covid rates in Iowa, while lower than their peak in October 2020, are still averaging at 416 new cases a day. That’s the same as it was eight long months ago. And even though only 15% of Iowans are fully vaccinated, restaurants are open at 100% and restaurant workers are not yet eligible for the vaccine. Customers are also not required to wear masks while servers are. No wonder Livi feels so frustrated.
Melissa is a server in San Diego, CA and she puts it much more succinctly. “Shit sucks. I’ll just say that.” Although California restaurant workers are eligible for the vaccine, restaurants are only seating at 25% capacity which makes it difficult to make as much money as one might need. Plenty of servers have left the business completely because they felt unsafe, weren’t making enough money, or both.
Stephanie, a server in Maine, says, “I am a little more comfortable now than 6 months ago. Vaccinations open up to everyone on April 19th. And so far over 30% of our population has been vaccinated.” It seems that vaccinations are the key to servers feeling okay with being at work. Most servers I spoke with want the vaccine and look forward to reaching eligibility even though they don’t know when that might be.
Texas just announced this week that beginning on March 29th, all adults will be eligible for the shot. This will make Sarah happy. She’s a server in Corpus Christi who says, “100% open, spring break hell. I have lost all faith in humanity to do the right thing.” Surely, this sentiment is echoed by the servers in South Beach Miami who have been dealing with rowdy crowds of spring breakers who act like the seriousness of Covid is in the rearview mirror. That city enacted a curfew this week to help with the surge of young tourists who most likely are not vaccinated.
So, what’s it like to be a server these days? It’s not easy. Waiters and waitresses are expected to give service with a smile while enforcing rules about masking and social distancing. They are very often receiving smaller tips because customers are using the “broke because of Covid” excuse. There’s more work to do during each shift because of all the things that have to be sanitized after every use, from menus to salt and pepper shakers. But still they serve. Anyone who is still working in a restaurant right now despite all the new demands are doing it for one of two reasons. They either love their job or they feel like they don’t have any other option. Regardless of why they are there or what state they live in, they are longing for things to go back to normal. Hopefully, after most of our country has been vaccinated, we servers can go back to complaining about the things we complained about before Covid: water with lemons, hot teas, separate checks, and rude customers. In the meantime, we smile behind our mask.