Dining Out During a Pandemic: Advice from Your Server

Food: Interviews & Features

It’s been months since you’ve “gone out”—you’ve probably exhausted all of the “under 30 minutes” recipes you can find on mommy blogs, and you’re craving a drink that has more than two ingredients. Or maybe you’ve already hit the town the second Utah restaurants were given the green light to reopen. Either way, there are a few things you should know about dining out during a global pandemic from someone who is working in the service industry.

The first knowledge bomb I will drop on all you friendly folks—who are just dying to let us know how much you’ve missed your over-complicated, sweet-but-not-too-sweet drink order—is this: We missed you too. Sure, sometimes it’s hard to look back on a slammed Friday night with fond memories, but ultimately, I love my job because I love people! I love the intimate details people share with me over the privacy of a bartop, I love the regulars who remember my name, and I love witnessing the joy that a great cocktail or unique dish can bring.

All said, try to keep in mind that for many of us, this is a scary time. The closure of bars and restaurants has reminded us that our profession has very little job security, and we rely heavily on the empathy of our customers. Ultimately, the most important way you can show that you care about service workers is simple: Wear a damn mask, wash your damn hands and keep that damn distance.

Masking, Distancing and Tipping

Now let’s talk face masks. These fashionable bad-breath barriers are an absolute must when visiting a bar or restaurant. You will be required to wear one when entering the establishment, and once you are comfortably seated at an appropriately distanced table, you can take them off. If you feel the sudden urge to stretch your legs or visit the restroom, put that damn thing back on. I’m talking to you, Stacey—I know you just have to visit the ladies room with your closest friends right this second, but I expect you to put on your bedazzled mask before you walk past my bartop.

Digital no-touch menus and other precautionary measures make the return to in-person dining a safe and fun experience.
Photo: John Barkiple

Masks have become a staple accessory when venturing out into public spaces, and so is the practice of keeping one’s distance. When you walk into a dining room, it may seem eerily vacant with few tables and oftentimes no bar seating. You might notice snazzy plexiglass dividers or one-way walk signs (things I hope are adopted post-COVID-19.) Each of these small details ensures that our patrons keep their space between one another, but it’s also important to maintain space from your server. I’ve experienced this firsthand during the pandemic—customers go out of their way to avoid their fellow diners yet abandon those same practices during interactions with their server or bartender. I know it can be difficult to curb your enthusiasm when I roulette a cocktail akin to god’s nectar, but try to show your appreciation without reaching for my arm or leaning over the bar with an inebriated grin.

Wearing face masks and practicing safe distancing are great ways to show service workers you care, but I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the importance of tipping. I’ll say this candidly: If you can’t afford to add 20% gratuity to your bill, don’t go out. This has held true in pre-pandemic days and has only become more relevant. Many service workers are paid a pitiful hourly wage and count on tips to carry them financially. Never assume that gratuity is included in your bill, and keep in mind that some establishments aren’t accepting cash. Being friendly with your server and tipping appropriately is a great way to ensure excellent future service and avoid being added to our “shit-tip” list. (OK, so there isn’t actually a list, but I still remember every face that has stiffed me on an expensive tab).

Safety is a Two-Way Street

Patrons get a quick temperature check before entering the restaurant, ensuring that no one brings in a nasty fever.
Photo: John Barkiple

Now that you know what you can do to make the lives of your servers easier and safer, let me tell you some of the things we do to make your experience safe and enjoyable. The service world knows many mantras and expressions, but these days, we live by three simple words: document, separate and sanitize. Before each employee begins and ends their shift, their temperature is taken and documented on a weekly temperature chart. This way, employers can track temperature changes and notice a potential fever. We also keep a careful count of the number of customers in the dining room, and some establishments take their patrons’ temperatures as well.

Separate refers to the distance kept between tables, but it also prevents cross-contamination on the staff end. A person serving food is not allowed to bus used tableware or cutlery, and vice versa. Sanitize is a big one, and while it may seem obvious, the level of sanitization taking place in restaurants and bars right now is exceptional. I’m talking door handles, pens, windows, air filters, staplers, calculators—literally everything that could possibly be touched is sanitized multiple times a day.

The service industry is a resilient and creative community that is working hard to stay afloat during these trying times. We want you to enjoy our delicious dishes and indulge in a tasty drink or two; just try your hardest to keep yourself and us safe during your stay. Welcome back—we’ve missed you.