Safety trumps socialization: stop putting servers at risk


Christine Park

Dining out may not seem scary now that new safety precautions are in place. But staying home is the best course of action to ensure the health of both you and your server.

By Juliet Norman, Opinion Editor

When I am slated to waitress my restaurant’s closing shift, suggesting new appetizers and giving wine recommendations is something I usually look forward to. Dining at a restaurant is meant to be a relaxing night without the responsibility of cooking. COVID-19 threw this widely-loved experience out the window at the end of March when the illness turned into a pandemic. As of June 22, cases in the U.S. topped 2.2 million since March.

So why are people insisting on bringing the restaurant experience back to normal?

Restaurants in Massachusetts reopened for outdoor dining on June 8. Starting June 22, all dining establishments in Massachusetts will allow indoor seating with public health restrictions in place, which could potentially escalate the spread of the respiratory virus.

Think about why people choose to go out to eat instead of eating at home. Social situations like business meetings, celebration dinners, and hangouts with friends warrant these outings. However, now is not the time to be social.  

As a waitress, seeing my friends and peers disregarding the safety of people in my line of work makes me upset. I understand that someone might mistake dining out as a way to help a business and their workers, but it makes more sense to wait until everyone can interact together without risk. You can still support restaurants and enjoy your favorite foods safely by just ordering takeout.

It baffles me that the need to be serviced and have every whim catered by those working in restaurants supersedes the need for public safety. Dining out may not seem scary now that new safety precautions are in place. But staying home is the best course of action to ensure the health of both you and your server. Please do not dine at restaurants right now just because you’re bored.

I am not talking about grab-and-go fast food spots like Dunkin’ or Taco Bell. I am referring to sit-down restaurants that call for a fully-serviced dining experience. The dishes you leave behind do not magically clear when you walk out the door. It is your server’s job to scrape all of the excess food off of every plate, throw napkins and tissues into the garbage, and wipe down all of the surfaces of your table.

Even before the outbreak, the restaurant industry was notorious for turning a blind eye to the health of its workers. In order to call in sick at the restaurant where I work, an employee would have to provide a doctor’s note, even for a simple cold. If they cannot provide this, they are written up. After two write-ups, a worker will typically be fired. A doctor’s visit is sometimes impossible because of workers’ limited access to reliable and affordable health care, especially for servers who live paycheck to paycheck. Would you want someone who is constantly sneezing and coughing handling your food? I have spent weeks serving customers when I was sick with laryngitis out of fear of being terminated. My manager knew that I wasn’t feeling well.

Right now, all full-time Massachusetts restaurant workers who have filed for unemployment due to the pandemic should receive half of their typical monthly salary along with an extra $600 per week through the CARES Act. These are generous wages, but these funds end on July 31. This strict deadline will force restaurant workers to resume their positions. The tip money I would be making if I went back to work is not worth the chance that I might catch this deadly virus.

Gov. Charlie Baker’s phase two reopening plan calls for single-use or displayed menus and complete sanitization of tables and chairs between each guest. It is ridiculous that restaurants are following these extreme regulations and putting so much extra labor requirements on their workers (who don’t even make half of the minimum wage hourly) just so people can take part in Sunday brunch. 

The recent decision to allow indoor table service is harmful when restaurant patrons will not be able to protect those around them by wearing a mask indoors. Close contact with bacteria as a server is simply unavoidable. Servers are not being safeguarded from germs when they are constantly serving people who will be forgoing their masks to eat. With these protocols in place, the entire authentic dining experience disappears.

Not only have I recently seen a spike in friends posting photos of them dining out, people are now going to house parties and on beach trips in large groups. To pretend that the world is normal right now and engage in behavior that shows a blatant disregard for the health of others is absurd to me. If you are going out to restaurants and parties with 20 or more people right now, you are a part of the problem. As more and more restaurants reopen every day, I can see no other outcome than a dramatic increase in virus cases. After reopening businesses in the past week, cases in Florida, Arkansas, and North Carolina have all surged by 30 percent.

The desire to be served, even during health-compromising situations, shows a lack of respect for those in service positions. This is not the time to be complaining to your server that you “didn’t know this dish was spicy” when “spicy” was in the name of the entree. If you do decide that you must be selfish and dine out, please tip at least 20 percent.