BY: CAMERON T. WADE
I’ve been working in the restaurant industry for four years, and I have never gone through this amount of stress and uncertainty in my life and jumping from job to job amid a pandemic has set me over the edge. Not only is this line of work require direct contact and food safety (which can get very serious with covid involved), but the tedious, disappointing tip money you get in the end makes this job one of the most stressful ones to work at in during these times. .
At the start of 2021, I occupied a bar-tending position at TGI Friday’s, which the bar-tending community has a saying towards the company: “if you can bar-tend there, you can bar-tend anywhere.” In this case, that quote turns out to be true because I went through the wringer at TGI Fridays. My experience at TGI Fridays has caused me to look at restaurants with a lot more detail because the restaurant acknowledged not even the standard principles of a stable working environment. So the second chance that I got to start looking for jobs, I downloaded three job-searching apps (Linkedin, Indeed, and Monster-Jobs) and reviewed each of them by star ratings, job satisfaction, location, and average salary. However, through this endeavor, I would soon be at a crossroads with my choice of career.
Throughout this year, I have become so invested in the restaurant industry that I had a firsthand look into how this pandemic caused an uproar, convincing everyone to rethink how to operate as a restaurant with as little contact as possible. Enter: Curbside Pickup; A form of service that allows guest to retrieve their food and beverages while parked in their automobiles, and the servers hand them through the window. It was essential for businesses, big and small, to stay afloat. Unfortunately, that didn’t save the thousands of restaurants that shut down back in 2020. I was working at Pappasito’s Cantina when the pandemic started; I felt the concern and worry emancipating from the surrounding staff that this… was serious. On the day after, the store would remain closed for a couple of days, and corporate sent a statement on Hotschedules, stating that stores will continue business by adopting curbside. It followed up by saying that employees can choose to stay home on unpaid leave, which I decided to do since I wasn’t comfortable working amid a virus. When it came around to reopening the restaurant for dine-in, I remember hearing that 3 to 4 different locations in the Houston area were closing down(permanently or temporarily) because of rising cases within the workplace. Still, although my site had about five confirmed cases within the store, we stayed open.
On top of that, when I decided to stay on curbside pickup instead of dine-in service, corporate decided to drop wages for To-Go servers from $7.50hr (which wasn’t enough, to begin with) to $2.13 to equate the money deficit. That was a problem for me because customers aren’t known to tip ToGo servers, which generally wouldn’t be a problem (thanks to minimum wage), but we relied on tip money because of the wage drop. At that point, I was only making $50 to $60 a night. Because of this, I had to resort back to serving to make rent; I don’t know how I would’ve made it without the money I received from unemployment that took months to process.
In 2020, over 110,000 restaurants shut down because of covid, and 9,000 of those establishments were in Texas alone. Before the pandemic, restaurants contained at least 10% (15.6 million) of payroll jobs in the work economy. Since the pandemic started, 62% of fine dining establishments and 54% casual and family dining establishments are 20% below staff levels. Now imagine you are the business owner of your restaurant. As a Restaurant owner (Or General Manager if you work for a corporate franchise), you have to worry about how you can get your ingredients, produce, and liquor delivered to your establishment to serve to your guest. But because of covid, suppliers can’t distribute the goods safely; so you have to take money out of your safe and buy your goods locally and shorten the menu. Not to mention that there is a worldwide liquor shortage, so you have to dial back the quantity of liquor you purchase, which is a big deal if your establishment is a bar or lounge because that is what boosts your sales, which is why they’re most important likely to shut down.
The grimmest part about all of this is that this is only going to get worse from here. This is why it is imperative now more than ever to be supporting your local small businesses. Not just for your own community but to make sure that we pave the way for our generation (Gen Z) to prosper in our careers like we were suppose to do.