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What it’s like to work during the pandemic

I love eating out. I love trying new cuisines and coming back to my kitchen with inspiration from local chefs. I love the dining out experience––you surround yourself with your people and don’t have to worry about clearing the table or washing dishes. In high school, I vowed to never work in the restaurant industry. I didn’t want my own experience to taint my love of eating out. But after holding two restaurant jobs, I don’t think I’ll ever consider getting a part-time job anywhere else. 

In the beginning of 2020, I started working as a kitchen cashier at one of the best seafood restaurants in the world. Some would say that I was spoiled working my first restaurant job at an establishment with three Michelin stars; I communicated regularly with one of the best chefs in the world and got to work with the best wait staff in Manhattan. As I processed bills late into the night, I gained so much respect for the restaurant industry––more than I thought I could ever have. I lost my job due to the pandemic, and sadly that restaurant’s doors are still closed. 

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Recently I started hosting at a restaurant in my hometown. Shifts are just as busy, but this time I’m in the front of the house, on my feet for five hours straight. Working with guests during this pandemic has, yet again, made me respect restaurant workers more than ever. Maybe I’m a little biased since I myself am one of them, but there is nothing more rewarding than a successful and smooth dinner shift. People come in and out, and I’m able to bring a little light to their night. This time they’re the ones who don’t have to worry about cleaning up; that’s on me!  

My experience working during the COVID-19 pandemic has been very smooth thus far. As long as you keep your mask on and respect social distancing guidelines, restaurant workers are more than happy to assist you for a night out of your own kitchen. At my place of work, we provide plenty of hand sanitizer and deliver dishes to guests wearing gloves and face masks. I feel very safe and empowered going to work. That being said, I think it’s because we have loyal customers who would hate to see their neighborhood spot close up shop. 

When you’re dining out, remember that the wait staff is composed of real people dealing with their own issues––issues that are exacerbated during this pandemic. I’ve learned that dining out during the pandemic is what you make of it. Now when I sit down at a table when I’m out to eat, I remember the respectful ways I’m treated during my own shifts. Servers are just doing their best to assist you, and hosts are doing their best to make sure your party is accommodated. Keep in mind that if your food is taking a long time to prepare, there are a lot of precautions being taken inside restaurant kitchens to ensure meals are prepared with the utmost safety. 

Depending on the city you’re in, you might have been dining out all summer long with social distancing guidelines in place. If you’re just about to eat at a restaurant for the first time since March, keep in mind that things have changed. The saying goes that the customer is always right, but the customer must also keep in mind that there are right ways to do things in this new state of normal. Restaurant culture is not dying. It’s changing for the better. So, get out there and support your favorite local kitchens. They’ve missed you too and cannot wait to welcome you back. 

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Claudia Langella is a Literary Studies major at Lang and is the Chapter Leader of HCTNS. When she's not writing, it's likely you'll find her in the kitchen or taking long walks in the city.
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