Skip to content

Restaurant Servers Are Furious About This One Thing as They Return to Work

Wait staff and bartenders are lamenting the risk and rewards that come with going back to work.
Cafe restuarant waiter face mask

As eating establishments across the nation begin to reopen under strict guidelines, restaurant workers, bartenders, and waitstaff appear to have mixed emotions. On one hand, most are delighted to be back at work after weeks of time off. On the other hand? Many feel that they should be getting paid more than average due to the increased risk they face by returning to work.

That's right. Waitstaff and restaurant workers around the nation are making an entirely reasonable request for hazard pay.

Restaurants in cities like New York are still limiting dining outside, but much of the rest of the country is now allowing dine-in service. As medical and public health experts have learned more about the spread of COVID-19, high-trafficked and poorly ventilated indoor areas have been identified as among the most dangerous places to contract the virus. Waitstaff and workers are not considered essential workers like health care professionals and grocery store staff, but now, they are also on the front lines in our war against this deadly pandemic.

Alicia Rottman is a Chicago-based food service professional with 15 years of experience. She noted to BlockClubChicago, "Just because the state says it's OK to open up doesn't necessarily mean that it's safe to." When she spoke with her own coworkers about returning to the restaurant at which they were all previously employed, " they 'unanimously agreed' that servers needed to be better compensated for the risks they'd take going back to work," reports BlockClub.

Restaurant employee's concerns are valid, considering that returning to work may likely mean they'll make less tips due to less turnover because of strict capacity and social distancing restrictions. Plus, servers have every right to ask for more paid sick leave and employer-provided health insurance during this time, notes Rottman.

"This is uncharted territory for the entire industry, so we're not expecting [restaurant owners] to have all the answers," Rottman told BlockClub. "But there's some really basic stuff that hasn't been addressed for workers and we're getting completely overlooked as the state pushes for reopening."

In a passionate letter published to Medium, Don Woolf, another Chicago-based restaurant worker, criticized state and city leadership for not adequately addressing the concerns of restaurant employees in their Phase 3 recommendations. "How will we be compensated for this extra work? You don't expect us to clean and sanitize restaurants day-in and day-out for $6.40 an hour, do you?" he wrote, while lamenting the health risks of working under these circumstances.

During the early days of stay-at-home orders, a number of national grocery and retail chains offered bonuses and/or hazard pay raises for their staff who were working through the pandemic. These moves received some derision as blatant PR moves, but the additional money was appreciated by employees.

Of course, national restaurant chains have more resources to afford hazard pay, but independent restaurant owners are seriously struggling after having virtually no revenue for the past few months. If they can even reopen, they likely won't have the resources to pay servers more. This is why many restaurants are now considering implementing a coronavirus surcharge in order to cover the extra cost of serving meals under such risky conditions.

Filed Under