Like many in the hospitality industry, I work multiple jobs to provide for my family and myself. I lost both jobs on Wednesday, March 18th.
My full-time job was at a fine-dining steakhouse in a live/work/play development in the far-north suburbs of Dallas, Texas. Like any restaurant, we are a family: we gossip, we squabble, we celebrate each other’s accomplishments and milestones, and we help each other on and off the clock. In the weeks leading up to the closure, there was a daily text message to all serving staff asking who wanted to take a cut, as we only had x number of guests on the books. X, starting in late February, was a number in free-fall. Those of us with spouses and live-in significant others were taking the cut more and more frequently so that those of us that had only this one job as income could make some money.
In response to the growing public health crisis, the steakhouse voluntarily changed our operating procedure the week before all dine-in was banned. Things that once were communal—jars of pickles on the tables, caddies of condiments brought to the table with the entrees—were gone. Surfaces that multiple guests touched regularly were now disinfected by the quarter-hour.
My part-time job was at a wine bar I’ve worked at on-and-off for nearly a decade. I worked there because I love the people I’ve met over the years: guests I run 5Ks with, guests whose in-home Christmas parties I’ve bartended, and guests who sent me care packages of food and wine while I was in graduate school a thousand miles away. These people are my family, too.
The wine bar’s response has been something else. A notice was posted in the window the first week of March stating that the company was reinforcing handwashing among staff (like hospitality professionals didn’t already wash our hands at near-compulsive levels), that kitchen staff would be wearing masks as soon as they arrived from…wherever…and that management would be monitoring our health and sending us home if we appeared ill. It seemed…anti-employee. Like the company was worried about us making guests sick, not the other way around. Or not—perish the thought—guests making each other sick.
Most North Texas restaurants have now shut down (except for takeout and delivery). The steakhouse chose to shutter for now to protect our health. They invited us to come in on that Wednesday afternoon to make a care package to take home. All perishables—bread, vegetables, desserts, salad dressings and sauces—were available for the taking. Our management seemed genuinely bereaved, and our general manager was urging those of us making to-go boxes to get more food. “Is that enough? Take more.” They’ve stayed in contact with us, letting us know how to file for unemployment, reassuring us that we will still have a job when this emergency is over, and reminding us that they’re here for us.
The wine bar, not so much. I received a text message that my location was closed indefinitely. The other locations are offering curbside pickup during limited hours, and the home office has been sending out emails hawking their wares while adopting a somber tone—a quote: “We’ve been humbled by the outpouring of support and sympathy for our brothers and sisters in the service industry.” Meanwhile, no mention of what they’re doing as a company to help their own employees that have been sidelined. But, please, do stop by for discounted wine and some takeaway.
If you have the money to support your local businesses right now, by all means, please buy the care packages restaurants are putting together: go get your to-go with eggs, butter, and a side of hospitality-grade toilet paper. Absolutely help where you can. But please ask what they’re doing to help before you spend a penny.
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