Essential Workers Are Treated Like Garbage Post-COVID

AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

COVID was devastating to the service industry. I thought we all knew this, which is why we banded together for a while to order take-out from local restaurants to keep our favorite businesses open during lockdown. Restaurant staff were deemed “essential” along with grocery store employees and many in the service industry. Meanwhile, white-collar Americans got to cozy up at home in front of Netflix while the lower class delivered food to their doorsteps. It was never okay. But what makes it worse now is that some of you haven’t figured out that just because the pandemic is over doesn’t mean the damage that was done to the service industry has healed.

I recently got a part-time job waiting tables, since inflation is uncontrollable. Restaurant work was always fun for me. I used to serve and bartend in my twenties. The atmosphere in a restaurant is usually vibrant and fun because everyone is out to have a good time. Some of my best memories are of working with a team of kitchen staff and servers to have a great night of service and make good money. My, how things have changed! I worked a double shift on Father’s Day and got to see the absolute degenerating status of human relations up close and personal.

There is a sense of entitlement in today’s diners that is inexplicable. You would think people would be thrilled to be back out socializing in restaurants without masks. But instead, it seems COVID broke everyone’s sense of manners and patience is a thing of the past. I watched a group of seven walk in with no reservation (on Father’s Day, no less) and get seated in less than ten minutes, get all of their drinks and appetizers, but have to wait (like everyone else) for entrees due to a kitchen slow down from staffing shortages. This waiting caused an epic tantrum, with grown men yelling at waitresses and demanding to have all of their food taken off the bill. They then left no tip for the single mom who was running her backside off for them. They also berated her and insulted her before they left, just in case she didn’t feel bad enough.

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You’ve seen those “help wanted” signs everywhere, right? No one is applying for those jobs, probably because of how horribly they were treated over COVID. Most service workers went and found other jobs outside the industry, went back to school, or sadly succumbed to drug problems and depression. People who work in the restaurant industry are well-known for having substance abuse problems. It’s not surprising, after watching how people treat them.

I watched a woman I’ll call Cruella allow her toddler to run around, nearly tripping waitstaff, for 3 hours as she and her group sat and took up a table that was reserved for another party while she complained and caused general misery. After she left, she called back to yell at the host because she lost something that she accused the staff of stealing.

Another couple was told they could have drinks at the bar and instead, they sat at a table reserved for people to eat. They didn’t leave a tip, though they took a table from a server. Another group tried to bring a dog into the inside dining room and were offended when told no.

The area that this restaurant is in is very affluent. All of these people are wealthy beyond the normal standard. Most of them have summer homes and boats and take yearly trips to Europe. None of them tipped over 18%. Some of them tipped less. The nicest tip I received was from a man who used to work in a kitchen. He was kind and patient and completely human. He was the minority by a lot.

I’m very blessed that I do not have to rely on this kind of work for my living. For me, this is extra money to save up to help one of my kids buy a car or pay for college and a way to get extra steps in and keep moving (because one’s spine gets stiff as one ages). But I urge you all to consider that the vast majority of service workers do rely on this work for their living. And taking out your rage and frustration on a server for (checks notes) having to wait for food you didn’t have to prepare yourself while you’re out for a good time on a holiday is the worst kind of character flaw. You should be sent to a reeducation camp if this is you.

I think we should institute a new rule that the worse things are going in a restaurant, the better the tips should be. Try imagining what it feels like to be the server whose order just isn’t arriving because the kitchen is overwhelmed and understaffed. Then give him twice what you would have because he’s being abused at every turn. Or stay home. 

Eating out is a luxury. In this terrible economy — brought to you by Joe Biden and Donald Trump, who allowed our economy to be locked down in the first place — if you can still afford to go out, you’re doing far better than anyone waiting on you. If you can’t pay it forward, at the very least try to have some compassion on the people trying to hold it together with silly putty and tape.

And keep your kid seated. Always.



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