WORKING IN THE TIME OF CORONA-VIRUS

by RYAN O’DOHERTY from Gjusta 

 

 3/29/2020

IF YOU DIDN’T KNOW ANYTHING about what’s been going on for the last month then walking into the restaurant where I work might just seem like wandering in on an especially slow day in the middle of March. The giveaway that not all is as usual might be the rubber gloves worn by all of the staff, the occasional medical mask, or the customers who come in and look, very meaningfully, into the eyes of the people taking their orders and thank them for their service as if they’ve just come back from a few years in combat overseas. “Ma’am, I’m just glad I have a job”, or something along those lines is what I usually follow their sincere thank you. How much longer I can keep saying that is up in the air. Even with half of the staff deciding to leave due to the health concerns of working in a restaurant during these times somehow everyone’s hours have still been cut in half.  I lost $100 on my last pay check and no doubt that number will probably be double or triple that on the next. 

Of all the people who inhabit a restaurant on a given day the customers seem to be the most unsure of how to deal with the disease. Everyone has a vague picture of how to operate during a pandemic, or what a viral pandemic even means, but when asked to actually put that mental image into practice there seems to be a million and one interpretations. Some customers come in fully protected by medical masks, rubber gloves, and personal bottles of sanitizer. Other’s look as though they’ve just wandered in from a two week surf session and have no idea what’s going on or what all these “bubble boys”, as one customer put it, are doing. Even so, all it takes for those who are seemingly on the more relaxed end of the pandemic preparedness scale to remember exactly what’s going on is a single cough or sneeze. Suddenly a woman with no mask or gloves has tucked her nose into her sweater collar and pulled her sleeves over her hands like a little kid who’s smelled something bad, only to forget her impromptu precautions when pulling her sweater off her nose to lean over the counter to smile and point out exactly which slice of pizza she wants.  There’s lots of grey area.

What’s worse is that because the virus is so wide spread, both virally and as a subject of discussion, it means that everything seems to now be viewed within its context. The touch credit card readers that allow the customer to swipe or insert their own card without an employee handling it for them were planned months before the virus was even mentioned on the news, but have been a point of wonder for customers who are convinced that it’s the first sign of living in a post corona world. It’s exhausting to witness the minor moments of panic experienced by people who are perceiving their world crumbling around them via the way they pay for their almond milk cortado. 

But it is undeniable the number of changes that have happened due to the outbreak. Customers are no longer allowed to eat inside the restaurant, a rule that is smartly meant to curb the spread of germs, but which has been met with some real push back by patrons who feel it is the right of the customer to eat their food immediately when it is handed to them. Its why working in a restaurant can be so dangerous. Even after a full day of washing your hands repeatedly, changing gloves every 30 minutes, wiping down the counters and computer screens with sanitizer, and constantly trying to maintain six feet of social distance a restaurant employee can suddenly turn around to a man furiously slobbering on a baguette with his mouth wide open mere feet from you and then have him say, with true indignation while spitting bread crumbs, “What? I can’t eat here?” 

Of course, as easy as it is to recognize the paranoia of others I can also recognize my own shortcomings. My mind has started to play games on me by randomly selecting customers who I become convinced are carriers of the virus. It’s sort of like a game of Russian roulette where I’ll find myself staring into the eyes of a customer who I’m suddenly convinced has the virus and, as casually as possible, add a foot or two to the six foot radius I’ve been trying to maintain with all people. No one can be too careful. At the same time my proximity to the number of people I serve on a daily basis has given me a pessimistic attitude about getting through this thing unscathed. If 40% of the nation is going to get infected like the news says then someone like me who is literally rubbing elbows (why did that become the default new handshake?) with a few hundred people a day has a pretty high chance of getting the virus. I’m not the only one who’s had this thought and it’s surely the reason morale has been at an all-time low these past weeks.

From a customer service stand point we employees have been placed in-between the customer and the virus. We’re expected to open cabinet doors, write out strangers signatures on the tablet, and sanitize every inch of the restaurant after every transaction. It does make you consider why you’re doing your job when half of your co-workers decide they would rather give up their paycheck than risk coming into work. Why am I risking my health for $300? Well, the alternative is sitting on unemployment for as long as possible and more than likely moving back in with my parents until this whole thing blows over, which might not be for three months? Six months? A year?