Restaurants continue to struggle with the new guidelines around outdoor dining during COVID-19. Photo by Norma Mortenson for Pexels.
By Matt Barrero, Staff Reporter
The dining out experience is much more than just eating a meal outside of your home. While it has always been a way to enjoy some hours of stress-free living, can you honestly say you’re relishing every minute of eating at a plastic folding table in the parking lot outside of your favorite restaurant during the coronavirus pandemic?
As a college student, working in a restaurant just made the most sense. It helped having managers who respected my school schedule on top of being one of the more popular eateries — you know the place: Delicious burgers, hot and fresh fries and of course, the whole Hawaiian atmosphere to make you feel as if you stepped onto a beachfront cabana.
From a manageable workload to earning an hourly income, plus tips, life for this 26-year-old was going swimmingly right until about mid-March – enter COVID-19. Mayor Eric Garcetti shut down indoor dining and take-out became the only form of service we could offer. I hung up my apron and awaited further instruction on when I could return to work.
Three months of furlough later, Gov. Newsom released his “guidelines for reopening in-room dining.” I was on my way back to serve up some bodacious burgers and chocolate lava cakes. Cowabunga dudes!
While the time off worked wonderfully in my favor to focus on school and still receive a paycheck via unemployment, the stability of a job felt equally as important. Especially in this climate. The adjustment period turned out to be the most difficult, due in large part to the lack of managerial guidance — Did I mention the three usual managers I worked under were no longer present? Because that’s important.
This instruction, or lack thereof, was more a”‘figure it out on your own and let us know if you have questions,”’ mentality. It progressively became easier to follow protocols with each shift that passed, yet the experience was still daunting. Questions were scattering through my brain:
“It is OK to take off my mask when I can’t be seen? Where have these customers been prior to coming in? Are any of them asymptomatic? Am I asymptomatic? What happens if I need to cough or sneeze?”
From the first day of reopening, the restaurant never required taking the temperatures of any guests who entered inside fearing we would lose business due to guests feeling fearful. You may be thinking, “Well, at least you and your coworkers were having your temperatures checked prior to starting your shift to prevent any spread.”
In the 22 days I worked in June, prior to starting a shift I had my temperature taken only once. I didn’t think to ask my managers because, what did I know? Maybe they were told everything was fine and the virus had diminished.
Patrons continued to come through our doors with some having the audacity to make comments like, “How can I eat or drink while wearing a mask?” I bit my tongue understanding I had no choice but to politely reply and explain when it was OK to remove the face mask.
Minutes felt like hours and the only factor that carried me to the end of each shift was knowing a paycheck was filling my bank account. On several drives home, thoughts continued to unravel. “Is risking my life worth $14.00 per hour (plus tips)?”
One Sunday evening, I arrived on scene ready to work when I overheard a guest comment to her daughter across the booth.
“It’s just so nice to be out of the house and not have to wear that stupid mask!” she exclaimed with joy as her daughter agreed with glee.
I wanted to lash out and say, “Shouldn’t we, as a society, be doing everything in our power to flatten the curve of a deadly disease? Isn’t that common decency?”
It was clear to me these two ladies wanted no part in being on the right side of history.
A resignation letter and three-hour conversation with human resources later, I stand before you jobless, running down to my final weeks of unemployment benefits and looking for a way to still bring in an income.
Are these happy times? No. Am I happy? Absolutely, because despite giving up a steady paycheck, I hold my head high knowing I cared enough to put others before myself. I cared more than my managers; more than the mother/daughter duo in that booth; and more than those who continue to see this situation as nothing more than a hoax and don’t want to become sheep.
I leave you with five simple words my father said to me at the beginning of this pandemic: Control What You Can Control