Your Server Hates You: Working in a Restaurant During COVID Is Infuriating and Exhausting
Just follow the rules. Please.
Since the pandemic began, service workers have been deemed essential. We’ve kept working through COVID or were fired for staying home. In restaurants, this has created a strain between workers and guests that has only gotten worse as the pandemic has gone on.
Enforcing the COVID Health and Safety Guidelines for Restaurants Is an Uphill Battle
Service workers have always had to let go of petty moments, like the person asking them 15 times for something extra or the one constantly sending back their food. But the new issues that have come up over the past year and a half are different. They can be life-threatening. And even knowing that, people continue to push back. Not only do they push back against rules that are supposed to keep us safe but they become violent and unhinged in a way that I do not get paid enough to deal with.
For example, someone comes into a restaurant with signs up clearly stating to “wear a mask, even if vaccinated, unless eating or drinking,” and they see that as a challenge, or worse, that they’re exempt and if we say otherwise, it’s “discrimination.” Then, we have to coddle them and convince them to do what we need in order to serve them, all while they hold up a line of 56 other reservations.
And that’s just one rule.
Since being back in restaurants, I think people have forgotten how to be human. They’ve become semi-feral animals who want expensive wine and food as quickly as possible. Before the pandemic, it seemed like everyone was calmer about service and knew how to behave in a restaurant. Of course, we had occasional problematic guests, but they were easier to ignore, especially because it wasn’t a life-or-death situation. Pre-pandemic restaurants were easy-going and leisurely compared to what they are now. We spent most of our time saying the customer is always right and putting aside the fact that sometimes they’re not.
And you, the guest, could go out and receive services at an amazing level of performance every single day. There wasn’t the same fear, burnout and anger like restaurants today, which are understaffed, underpaid and have no medical insurance or paid time off. Food service workers today are gritting their teeth to the bone daily just to survive.
Adapting to How the Restaurant Industry Has Changed During the Pandemic Is Difficult for Everyone
When my restaurant reopened after lockdown, we had made a lot of changes that made things extra hard for staff. Our menus were now digital so that they could be updated with 86’d items and new dishes on the spot, but they weren’t incredibly functional. The downside to not having paper menus was if you didn’t have a phone, you were stuck having to look at someone else’s. I had a guest ask to use my personal phone, to which I told him no, and then he proceeded to pitch a fit about it. I still didn’t let him. (He eventually used his friend's phone and wound up having a great evening.)
The owners also changed the restaurant from one style of cuisine to another and hired an almost entirely different staff. They had done this many times before, so it only blew a few minds, but the people who weren’t aware of the changes often got grumpy with us for not matching our online presence, which hadn’t been updated. Since our new staff was small, starting off, our service was slower, and of course, that became an issue.
On one of my first nights at work, I had a guest berate me over a mistake that he made and that he refused to let me fix. So, in a dining room full of people, he began yelling, cussing and carrying on about how stupid I was and how I didn’t deserve my job. Management promptly told him to leave and never return, but experiences like that happen at least once a month these days. If it's not to me, then its to someone else on staff over something as small as a beer not being as cold as a guest prefers or someone trying to order food long after the kitchen has closed.
Restaurants During COVID Are Short Staffed, Overworked and Stressed Out
I have had my fair share of pandemic problems, and many started before we reopened. While we were still trying to iron out our "post-apocalyptic” plans, we were just doing to-go orders and we weren’t fully staffed, so I did a number of to-go orders alone. I wasn’t used to being by myself on a shift, but it was nice to work silently and appreciate the normality of showing up to work at all. There were no chairs set up for seating, but I still had to chase people out of the bar. No one would respect the idea of not standing around me without a mask. One man left us an angry review because we forgot his salsa. We were doing our best, but the negative reviews about masks and the fact that we weren’t allowing people to sit kept coming in. Restaurant guests spent tons of time berating us for new rules to keep ourselves safe and the restaurant open. We still have to defend ourselves against people who merely look at us as their personal (and poorly tipped) servants.
I have personally seen a number of service workers who tirelessly worked through the pandemic quit their jobs on the spot, usually over the combination of low pay and high stress. Most of the time, the final straw is experiencing some kind of abuse from guests or the other staff. It’s brutal out here. Once, I witnessed a co-worker have to yell at someone about masks. This co-worker wasn’t a mean person, but he was scared and wanted to make sure he wasn’t being taken advantage of. He hadn't had many days off during the lockdown. The bar had reopened for seating, but it was still too soon. Mentally, we weren’t ready, and we were still understaffed because some people refused to come back. We had been told we wouldn’t continue to receive funds if we didn’t come back to work, so many of us begrudgingly returned.
Being Disrespectful at a Restaurant Is Not Only Rude, It Makes Your Server Hate You
Unfortunately, almost 70 percent of our staff got COVID and the other 30 percent went on to run the restaurant instead of the owners closing and having us all get tested. One of my co-workers who'd had COVID got into an altercation with a guest who wouldn’t wear a mask. Then, he was fired, followed by everyone else on staff who had voiced any anger about the lack of safety in our workplace. We had put ourselves on the line for a job that replaced us within months of reopening for patrons who wouldn’t follow the rules and didn’t care that we were risking our lives for less than minimum wage.
Over time, your servers, bartenders, busboys and chefs have been worn down to the bone with ridiculous questions, assumptions and entitlement—not to mention the stress of having to put our lives at risk just to work. We want you to enjoy your evening but to also be reasonable about expectations. The pressure you add to our jobs during the pandemic, with your demands and your refusal to respect our safety, makes us hate you. When the world is on fire, the last thing you need to do is light matches in other people’s lives. Learn some decent restaurant etiquette, because you guys suck.