The Service Industry and COVID-19: A Varied ‘Menu’ of Thoughts Jessica Broverman May 20, 2020 As food and beverage facilities are at the top of the list for essential businesses, servers have been on the frontline of the coronavirus pandemic for two months now. These workers are putting together meals, bringing them to your vehicle, and many are now serving you while you dine in. While some people are afraid to touch a door handle, these front-line workers are cleaning up after dozens of people and serving hundreds. SAFETY FIRST Carson Corrick, who has been a server at Avenue Eats throughout the entire pandemic, feels that she has been able to stay healthy throughout these few months while working, but is scared for her family’s wellbeing. “I’m not so much worried for my own health, but for my family’s health,” said Corrick, who has worked at Avenue Eats for three years. While Corrick is looking forward to human interaction and spending time with family in the future, she spends her days managing those who come into the restaurant, which she says can be difficult. “I’d say trying to make it so one person comes in at a time is hard. Sometimes people will come in, and it will get crowded, and we have to ask them to go outside,” said Corrick. While signs have been posted telling guests to stay six feet apart, many are still coming inside and gathering near the door. Corrick is keeping a positive attitude and doing her best to stay safe on the job, however. “It’s impacted us like it’s impacted every other business, but we’re all wearing masks and gloves,” she said. Carson Corrick, right, and her fellow coworker Tabatha Hawthorne, left, have been providing curbside service since mid-March and are ready to serve the public with the utmost safety. “It’s definitely been a change going to take-out, but we’ve all been pretty all right with it. … We’re just too small of a restaurant to open. You would only be able to fit one or two tables at a time outside.” Though dine-in options are still off the table at Avenue Eats, carry-out orders are readily available. “We’ve been steady with to-go [orders]. People have been pretty nice about it all,” said Corrick. “We probably won’t open back up for another couple weeks — a few weeks until it’s safer for everyone.” BACK BY POPULAR DEMAND While some restaurants stayed open every day during the COVID-19 outbreak, Generations Restaurant and Pub closed its doors for a month. They opened for outdoor dining on May 4. Brittney Soles, who has been serving at Generations for nine years, is hoping this is the first step toward the world’s “new normal.” “I’m just really ready for it to be back to normal in general. And people are more appreciative now I think. Generations server Brittany with fellow servers and some of her “regulars,” pictured here — pre-coronavirus. “When we were shut down, I was doing to-go orders, packing food, cashing people out, and tips varied at first when it was take-out,” said Soles. “People were tipping generously, but now that outdoor dining is open, it has gone down a bit, but it’s still decent.” Though this global change has been a drawback for many servers, Soles took advantage of working whenever possible. “We did a lot of deep cleaning, remodeled the kitchen, got the floors redone and the banquet hall deep cleaned,” said Soles. “I’ve gotten a lot of cleaning stuff done up there. I was off maybe for about a month because we did some cleaning in the beginning and then we couldn’t open back up until the kitchen was finished, so no one worked for about a month.” During the month-long shutdown, fellow server at Generations, Courtney Scarfpin, says she was not provided any options for an alternate income other than unemployment. Soles did not comment on her compensation options, but is happy to be back at work and says she does her best to accommodate every type of customer who orders from them. “Some people come in for a take-out order, and there are some people that still won’t come inside the restaurant, but you have some people that don’t want to be at home anymore,” said Soles. “We’ve had some people stay here till close just because they are sick of being at home.” While splitting tips among servers is not the norm, Generations is doing that to keep things fair, according to Soles. “We kind of work more as a team, which is good. Sometimes it can hurt your money, just depending on the day.” With things still up in the air as to when the pandemic will calm down, Soles is not too uneasy about it, but it is always on her mind. “We’re wearing gloves and masks, and we have sanitizer everywhere, and we wipe everything down. Being at work, I feel pretty safe,” said Soles. “Being out in the public, I’m a little bit (nervous) though. This area hasn’t been hit as hard as others and it’ll pass. … It’s always a thought in your head though.” UNAFRAID, BUT STAYING SAFE Stacy Smith, head server at River City, is not as nervous about the virus as some other restaurant workers have been. She has been working throughout the entire pandemic and on many days working by herself doing the cooking, cleaning and providing take-out orders. She says business has slowed down immensely, but guests have been making things better by just being there for the employees. “It’s been very slow. This is tough on a small business,” said Smith. “The (customers) have been very nice, and the ones that are coming in have been very generous. If it weren’t for our regulars, it wouldn’t even be worth it coming into work.” Smith and a fellow coworker work alone on separate shifts during the week and often work together on Saturdays. “Sometimes Josh [the restaurant’s bartender] comes in on Saturdays, and I’ve been the cook,” said Smith. “It’s scary, but I’ve worked here off and on since this place opened in 1996, so I probably know the menu better than most cooks do.” River City Restaurant has been providing to-go options for customers throughout the pandemic. While safety is the No. 1 priority at this point, Smith says River City hasn’t had to make any extreme adjustments as the business has been adhering to health guidelines all along. “We don’t have a lot of changes because we were doing things that you should do anyhow,” said Smith. “We wash our hands a lot, and we have put up sanitizer (stations), and it’s not a whole lot different. Masks are suggested, but they aren’t required.” Smith also believes that this shutdown could have been handled in a very different way and says restaurants should not be considered an essential business. “For example, the people in downtown — unless they want to bring their lunch, I don’t know that we’re necessarily essential. Lowe’s and Walmart and the bank are not essential,” Smith believes. “In all honesty, this would’ve been over a long time ago if we were notified earlier and stocked up on groceries.” Smith also believes the national shutdown is taking precautions too far and that it is working against people rather than working for them. “This whole shutdown was not necessary. I don’t want anyone to die, but this is the law of natural selection. That’s life,” said Smith. POSITIVITY GOING FORWARD Some servers have yet to return to work. Sara Armstrong of Wheeling, a server at Fusion Japanese Steakhouse, has been home since March with her infant child and fiancé. She’s been collecting unemployment. “My last day of work was March 14. I just got a message yesterday asking if I wanted to work because we are supposed to be opening back up next week,” she said. Armstrong is more upset about feeling trapped at home, but also knows it’s for the best. “It’s affected me not only because of money, but also because I have been stuck in the house. Definitely unemployment is a giant help during this time.” In fact, Armstrong says she has received more money now than she was earning as a server working three to four days a week. She is, however, ready to get back to work as she has missed speaking with guests and seeing her fellow employees. “My favorite part about being a server is getting to interact with my coworkers and customers. Also, making good money and getting out of the house as well,” said Armstrong. “What I miss the most is definitely communicating and getting to interact with all sorts of different people versus just the people I live with.” While she knows it is going to be fairly slow once she returns to work, she is ready to get back in the saddle. “Some days it is definitely discouraging if it isn’t busy enough at the restaurant, but most days I am extremely pleased with the amount that I made considering it would have been more than if I was working a regular hourly job,” said Armstrong. At this point, the No. 1 priority for Armstrong is her daughter, Sophia. Sara Armstrong, server at Fusion Japanese Steakhouse, and her daughter Sophia have been doing their best to stay safe during the current pandemic. Though the pandemic has made her more protective of her daughter, they have made the best of it. “She’s been loving standing up and walking herself around things and also has been loving scrunching her nose,” said Armstrong. “Even in the midst of all this … we’ve still managed to have fun.” • With a background in journalism and being a true Wheeling native, Jessica Broverman was destined to work with Weelunk. She holds a degree in journalism with a minor in criminal justice and works with Williams Lea Tag as a legal proofreader. When she isn’t typing away for Weelunk or WLT, she is enjoying a coffee at one of her many favorite spots in Wheeling, spending time with friends, or having fun with her husband Zachary and their two cats, Proctor and Max. 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