In March, state regulations forced most restaurants to temporarily close their doors to regular diners and switch to a take-out business. This switch caused 5.9 million food service workers to lose their jobs, the hardest hit industry. Over the months to follow, lightened restrictions allowed restaurants to function, many opting for or required to do outdoor dining or socially distanced indoor dining. Many businesses were excited to open their doors, however, the restaurant workers did not feel the same way.

Restaurant workers have taken the brunt, financially and mentally. The staff return to work each day and live in fear that they may get COVID-19, yet they are not supported financially for taking this risk. For those still employed, 83% of workers reported a decline in tips amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. One worker notes that people have actually been more generous, averaging 24% tips up from 20%, but the lack of capacity is brutal in an industry where the federal minimum wage for servers is just over two dollars an hour. Some restaurants cut their employees' benefits, like a 401k plan.

sweet, money, coins, cash, us dollars, currency
Anna Arteaga

Everyone is burned out because we’ve now all become bouncers, weird nurses taking people’s temperatures, and babysitters" notes Nikol Burgos Sevilla, a server in Brooklyn, New York. Servers like Sevilla are forced to take on many more responsibilities to prevent thousands of dollars of fines from the New York government, which has already filed over 1300 claims. Nora Cooper, a bartender and server states, "Patrolling adults is exhausting." Having to distance tables and enforce guidelines makes her job more difficult. Yet, Cooper must display a smile and perkiness no matter how difficult to earn her tips.

Staff in these low paying jobs must demonstrate their ability to be ideal workers, a term coined by sociologists, describing workers who eat, live, and breathe their job. They are forced to prioritize their job over everything else. While it is often used in regards to investment bankers and doctors, restaurant workers now fit this definition. They must risk their lives daily to make ends meet, without the financial benefits of being an investment banker or doctor.

Ideal worker or not, the pain is not over yet. The holiday season usually calls for gatherings and holiday parties where unprecedented tips were expected. Many restaurants are struggling to stay open, and their employees risk losing their jobs once again as restaurants continue to lose money into the winter.