It’s the Abuse, Stupid.

Increased benefits or not, the past 15 months have exposed what little regard Americans have for waitstaff and retail help.

The entitlement of the Paid Not to Work narrative pales in comparison to clip after clip of retail and restaurant employees being yelled at and assaulted. Whether due to COVID protocols or the public’s general lack of coping skills, no wonder strip mall manpower isn’t rushing back to fill these domestic abuse scenarios disguised as employment.

I know a few hireable candidates who couldn’t care less about their old gigs, and it isn’t because Biden bought ’em a piece of Easy Street.

Relocation and career changes play a part, as do schooling, childcare, eldercare, and job applicants who remain unvaccinated. Clips of customer tantrums are the new Cops!, and all that viral phone footage plays an arguably bigger part in why 42% of restaurants and small businesses report an inability to fill job openings. Tik-Toks showing rage and verbal harassment reinforced the service-business dread of countless grocery workers. Infrared depictions of how our sneezes end up in Alaska don’t help.

From fast food to gourmet and everything in between, no food service employee is free from questioning whether or not it’s worth going back.

According to a server-friend at a popular LA eatery, neither do efforts to match pre-COVID efficiency while being met with insults and accusations of laziness — including from one’s own employer or corporate overlord. 

Even the energy of those thrilled to finally be out and about can contribute to a lack of awareness about the many new obstacles to rapid service waitstaff now face. With a longer journey from grill to street table, this includes taking steps to ensure dishes remain piping hot for as long as possible. Says my friend, “If the food’s not hot, forget a decent tip.”

Ditto when a customer whose starting pointing is mask resistance instructs you to “go tell the chef to,” and you try to explain why you’re no longer allowed to do that.

There was also the post-Covid discovery that waitstaff had been assigned additional duties like busing their own tables (this was once the job of a bus staff). Wiping down the walls was a new one, and in between seatings, it’s now mandatory. So far the employees agree: this new “side work” eats up the time it would take to serve a full table, effectively eliminating at least one potential tip. “And when you don’t have a lot, you count on your tips – a lot.”

Welcome to Restauranting, post-COVID. For my friend and colleagues, being spoken to contemptuously has been yet another bonus, especially when managing the line of patrons waiting to enter an establishment. All staffers now get to help with this cattle call. “And out there,” I was told, “the insults are quicker, louder, and fueled by a mob.”

Further fun add-on expectations include: 

  • Filling to-go orders, which have exploded in number for most restaurants
  • Prepping to-go condiment and utensil packets with all the usual landfill waste; never to exclude card-stock event promos and specials
  • Preparing bins of pre-wrapped table settings 
  • Napkin folding and the resetting of street tables and fake plants
  • Answering phones using approved post-COVID etiquette
  • Navigating client demands related to food allergies and the substitutions the restaurant is no longer willing to make (all while car exhaust wafts across the “patio”).

It’s a post-COVID world, after all, and if the “undeserving poor” would just put down the Netflix and get back into their low wage boxes, everything would be so much better for everyone else’s 401k. Besides, some employers are even paying more than minimum wage, you greedy shirkers, and others are offering a handful of benefits. Not, like, sick days or paid family leave, but beggars can’t be choosers!

Or can they?? Can even underpaid people dare to dream that the supply and demand magic of capitalism might one day work for them, too? That the high demand for their labor might command a higher price paid in the form of livable wages and better working conditions?

Veteran waiters learn to take a lot in stride, like patrons who leave their dentures on the table, or a full diaper. Stuck ay home at the height of the pandemic, they may have even begun miss cranky regulars known for sending orders back, but that will sure disappear fast!

Of course some of these realities were present before the pandemic, but c’mon. After a year away from waiting tables and given the current climate, wouldn’t you be looking elsewhere, looking higher, or cozying up to connected friends and family? Wouldn’t you be digging at the dirt for a better environment to work in than a slop-trough with 16 televisions and a bunch of sniping customers?

So some are slow to go back. Duh. Many others are hesitant to put a target on their backs as first-timer restaurant employees. People do request interviews and then don’t show up. Is that because they’re on the white water rafting trip Congress gifted them, or did something better become possible?

Sure, there are those out there collecting and coasting on the government’s dime, middle fingers held high at this nation of chokehold apologists, oligarchs, sex-crime politicians, and groveling, racist swine. But it’s not the free ride the American way of life is paying for that’s keeping you from your bacon burger: in no small part, it’s the abuse, stupid.

Shaming someone back to your sports bar isn’t gonna work. But if you think it will, bring that burger over here so I can lift the lettuce myself and hock one for my friend.