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Explosive New Survey Reveals What's Happening in Restaurants

Restaurant workers uncover hazards they face on a daily basis.

You could have probably guessed that being a restaurant worker during the pandemic is challenging. But a new report released by One Fair Wage, a nonprofit organization working to eradicate subminimum wage for tipped workers, shows just how dire workplace circumstances have become for millions of people who depend on tips to earn a living.

Besides the rampant pushback to COVID-19 safety protocols from customers, restaurant workers are also exposed to an increase in abusive behavior and sexual harassment. Not to mention, most of them report their tips are down by more than half since the pandemic began. When you take into consideration that the average wage for tipped workers is $2.13 an hour at the federal level and $5 or less in nearly 40 states, it is clear why most of them aren't making a livable wage.

Here are some of the most shocking findings that highlight the plight of service workers in restaurants.

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They face a significantly higher risk of COVID-19

taking orders

Coronavirus cases are spiking across the country and service workers are one of the most vulnerable populations out there. A whopping 44% of polled workers revealed that at least one or more of their coworkers in their restaurant contracted COVID-19.

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Most employers don't consistently follow COVID-19 protocols

restaurant staff

What's worse, workers say that restaurants often don't have adequate protective gear and protocols in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among staff. A shocking 89% of restaurant workers reported that their employer is not consistently following COVID safety protocols, while 25% indicated their employer does not provide them with any Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to wear that would keep them or their customers safe.

They are frequently exposed to maskless patrons


And even when restaurant staff are wearing face masks, customers who ignore the safety rule continue to pose the biggest risk to them. As many as 84% of workers reported being within six feet of at least one person who is not wearing a mask in every shift, and 33% report being within six feet of 30 or more maskless individuals on every shift.

Tips have declined during the pandemic

empty tip jar

During the pandemic, when frontline workers at restaurants are sacrificing their own and their family's health for the sake of doing their job, their earnings have decreased significantly. Because most restaurant workers rely on tips to earn a minimum wage, it's a devastating blow that 83% of them say their tips have declined during the pandemic, while 66% say that the amount of their earnings from tips has decreased by more than half.

They are punished for enforcing safety measures

dissatisfied with tip

The brunt of safety protocol enforcement ends up falling on your servers and waitresses, who say they feel reluctant to fulfill these duties because of worries that it will result in less tips. And they're not wrong—67% of those polled reported receiving smaller tips after enforcing such protocols on customers.

They worry about abusive customers

upset customers

And not only could their tips suffer, but high instances of abusive behavior directed at restaurant workers makes them reluctant to step in when safety directives are ignored. Almost 80% of them reported experiencing or witnessing hostile behavior from customers in response to enforcing safety protocols, while 59% say they experience that hostility on a weekly basis.

They have experienced an increase in sexual harassment

upset waitress

Perhaps one of the most shocking findings is that restaurant workers are experiencing an increase in instances of sexual harassment during the pandemic. Of 1,675 workers surveyed, 41% said they had noticed an increase in the frequency of unwanted sexualized remarks from customers. Two-thirds of tipped workers are women, and dozens of them have reported demeaning comments from male customers requesting them to remove their masks. "Women are literally being asked to expose themselves to illness and death for the pleasure of male customers—and all for a sub-minimum wage," the report stated.

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Mura Dominko
Mura is ETNT's Executive Editor, leading the coverage of America's favorite restaurant chains, grocery stores, and viral food moments. Read more about Mura
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