Slate’s ongoing Coronavirus Diaries series has been an illuminating look at how COVID-19 is affecting people’s lives, either personally or professionally, and the most recent installment about what it’s like to be a server at a newly reopened restaurant might be the most riveting of them all. There are many reasons that former servers believe everyone should spend a stint in food service in order to better understand the human condition; this article puts several dozen of those reasons on display.
The article is composed of an account by Magi, a server at an American Chinese restaurant in Boca Raton, Florida. Magi explains that their restaurant initially tried to ride out the first few months of lockdown on a takeout-only model, which the restaurant wasn’t really equipped for. Now that it’s back open with limited-capacity seating, employees are seeing the return of dine-in patrons—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Difficult customers suck at the best of times, but Magi explains that coronavirus fears have ignited their paranoia while also highlighting their sense of entitlement: “[Customers like this] have definitely evolved because of the pandemic. The thing that’s changed on our end for the pandemic is that normally it’s ‘The guest is always right.’ Whatever they want, we’re going to jump through hoops. But now I’m allowed to tell them no. ‘No, you can’t sit at that booth because we’re practicing social distancing.’... I don’t think these people are used to hearing no from us.”
Magi does point out that many guests are exhibiting kindness, compassion, and appreciation for all that the servers are doing to accommodate them, with that gratitude often taking the form of extra tips. But it’s a shame to know that, as restaurant-goers return to their old haunts for a sense of normalcy, “normalcy” for some people includes making life more difficult for minimum wage employees.
Maybe these people wouldn’t recognize themselves in an account like Magi’s—but that’s exactly the point. It’s well worth hearing about the challenges faced by those in the restaurant industry so that we keep ourselves in check, whenever we decide to return to these establishments ourselves. If being told “no” by a server who’s following CDC guidelines ignites any kind of rage in you, try to figure out where that anger is really coming from, and what sort of privilege might be feeding it.