You Really Gotta Be Nicer to Your Server

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This spring, after the CDC announced that fully vaccinated individuals did not need to wear face masks in most situations, many of us proclaimed we were “vaxxed and waxed,” ready for a “return to normalcy” that included hitting up all our favorite restaurants and bars that survived the pandemic. Sure enough, “Hot Vax Summer” was upon us: We came, we saw, we ate and drank and partied like it was 2019 (yeah, it has been that long).

Now, another phrase has entered our lexicon, one free of cliché and charm: Delta variant. The much more contagious COVID-19 variant—combined with low vaccination rates in many parts of the country—has seen average COVID cases increase more than sevenfold nationally over the last month. In response, Washington, D.C., and half of California have reinstated indoor mask mandates, while New York City will begin requiring proof of vaccination for indoor dining and drinking later this month.

Sadly, spiking COVID numbers are just one component to larger problems facing the restaurant industry, as this pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing workplace and financial issues. The cumulative impact has changed how we experience restaurants and bars; for how long is uncertain, but just as airports never totally returned to a pre-9/11 state, dining or drinking out will never exactly be as it was pre-pandemic. We’re dealing with an ever-evolving new normal, which comes with an ever-evolving list of new things to consider before heading to a restaurant or bar.

Get Vaccinated or Stay Home

Eric Rivera calls vaccines “a game changer.” Rivera chose to keep the dining room at his eclectic, multi-concept restaurant Addo in Seattle closed until May 27 to give his staff time to get vaccinated. Anyone dining at Addo must prove they are vaccinated; this has been Rivera’s rule from the beginning, no exceptions.

“[The unvaccinated] are a danger to more than the dining room,” said Rivera.”They are a danger to society and not welcome in my space or life.”

Vaccines are not only our best defense against COVID-19, they are our most effective means of preventing financially crippling lockdowns and other mandated measures — a fact many unvaccinated who feel safety measures encroach on their freedom struggle to understand. Case in point: A California restaurant that has said it won’t serve vaccinated customers because of the “treasonous, anti-American stupidity.” (Freedom? More like freedumb.)

If you have chosen not to get vaccinated (or have a legitimate medical reason why you haven’t), you should not be dining out or drinking at bars. It’s too risky — for you and for others around you inside these establishments. Show them the respect they deserve and order delivery instead. And if an establishment (or local government) requires proof of vaccination to enter, understand that rights go both ways, and they have a right to keep their staff and other patrons safe.

Be Empathetic to the Industry’s Challenges

Even if we can successfully curb the spread of the Delta variant, restaurants and bars continue to face a labor shortage. In the short term, expect slower service when you go out and build it into your night’s plans; instead of griping about your food not coming out fast enough, enjoy the extra time spent out in the world connecting with family and friends. If the restaurant gets your order wrong, you shouldn’t complain — but you can bring it to their attention (this may sound like semantics, but there’s a big and appreciated difference between the two).

As Cheryl Baun, who co-owns Karenderya, a Filipino-inspired restaurant in Nyack, New York, (and 2018 Esquire “Best New Restaurants in America” pick) with her chef husband, Paolo Garcia Mendoza, told me, “We know that part of the reason why people come to us is to find comfort and to feel taken care of, and that’s what we want to deliver.”

Of course, if you choose not to say anything to your server or the manager about an issue you had with your meal, you shouldn’t say anything about it online when you get home, either. “If people don’t tell us there’s a problem when they are at the restaurant, we can’t fix it,” said Baun. “People don’t realize that complaining to the whole world online can have serious repercussions to a small business.” If you have a problem, Yelp won’t solve it.

paolo garcia mendoza and cheryl baun
of karenderya
Paolo Garcia Mendoza and Cheryl Baun of Karenderya.


Be Prepared to Spend

If you’re just now dipping your toes back into restaurant and bar waters, you may have noticed things got more expensive since the pandemic began.

“Restaurants are paying their cooks more because it is hard to find people to work, and they want to keep their crew,” said Garcia Mendoza. “Plus, the increasing costs of ingredients and supplies gives us no choice but to raise our prices.”

Be okay with spending more on the entire experience, from drinks to food to service (30 percent gratuity should be the new 20 percent, as your servers are still working in dangerous conditions and are being asked to do more with less help).

Don’t Be a Dick

As the carefree vibes of early summer begin to fade, anxiety and anger are setting in—a potent mix when thrown into a public space like a restaurant or bar. At its worst, these short fuses can ignite into violence, as we saw recently in the viral video from Joe’s Pizza in Brooklyn, where a brawl broke out behind the pizza counter between customers and employees. The Massachusetts restaurant Apt Cape Cod encapsulated just how bad things have been when they closed for a “day of kindness” after one of their servers was berated by a customer, the final straw in a long, drawn-out spring and summer of complaints that left their staff teary-eyed and demoralized.

“I think we all know by now that you could truly see someone’s true character by how they acted during the pandemic,” said Baun. “Anyone who works in any service industry can legitimately say that they’ve seen both the best and the worst of people to the extreme over the past year and a half.” Treating hospitality workers with more respect, empathy and kindness aren’t just the morally correct things to do; they’re the bedrocks for saving our restaurants and bars.

Anything close to a return to normalcy can’t exist without them.

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