Restaurant Work Is Always Brutal. Under the Pandemic, It’s Hell.

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      But when servers do return to work, they’re earning less in tips than ever: 83 percent say their tips have declined during the pandemic, with 66 percent reporting that their tips have declined by at least 50 percent. While one cause of this decline is fewer customers as people stay home instead of eating out, another is the paradoxical situation servers find themselves in: they’ve become de facto public-health czars, tasked with policing the compliance of the very customers they rely on for tips.

      It’s no secret that a significant portion of the US population has elevated mask wearing to an issue of political principle, refusing to follow health protocols on the grounds that they infringe on their personal freedom. The result for servers is an impossible predicament: enforce the mandates, and get stiffed; or let it go, and risk their health and that of others in the restaurant. More than half of the workers surveyed say they are reluctant to enforce COVID protocols out of concern that customers will tip them less, and “67 percent received a lesser than usual tip after enforcing those protocols on customers, usually on a frequent basis.”

      Getting sick, or stiffed, aren’t the only possibilities servers face, either: there’s also sexual harassment. Such harassment has long been a constant for many servers. Restaurant workers account for more harassment claims filed in the United States than workers in any other industry, and a 2016 report by Restaurant Opportunities Center United (ROC United) found that 90 percent of women and 70 percent of men in the industry experience harassment from customers on the job. The fact that servers working in states that have abolished the subminimum wage for tipped workers report half the rate of sexual harassment has long been central to the argument for phasing out such a wage, an argument made by organizations like One Fair Wage.

      The pandemic hasn’t reduced workplace sexual harassment. Unbelievably, for many of the report’s respondents, it intensified it. As today’s reports states, “More than 40% of workers (41%) reported that there has been a noticeable change in the frequency of unwanted sexualized comments from customers, and just over one quarter (25%) report that they have experienced or witnessed a significant change in the frequency of such sexual harassment.” It goes on to list comments customers made to workers received, many of which, like the report’s title, turn upon a fixation with servers’ masks. A sampling: “Asks to see ‘pretty’ face. If i say no he doesn’t tip”; “The patrons make comment about using the mask in a bedroom”; “I’ll take your mask off and stick my tongue down your throat”; “A man cut a hole in the mouth (of the mask) and asked a coworker if she sat on his face would he get covid.”

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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