“I found out my restaurant was closed from social media”: Out-of-work servers on coping with the new normal
Few lines of work have been spared disruption, or full-on obliteration, by the coronavirus epidemic. But with dine-in business essentially outlawed for the foreseeable future, restaurant servers and front-of-house staff—particularly those who rely on tips for the bulk of their income—have been hit particularly hard. Here’s how five servers were coping, roughly a week into the present reality.
Eugenio Tamburini, 31
“My employer guarantees everyone will have their jobs back when we reopen, so I’m not looking for new work, aside from odd jobs to help financially. My restaurant did an amazing thing for their employees by putting all the food that would have gone to waste into care packages full of veggies, proteins and even desserts for us and our loved ones.
“I think many people are worried about how much EI can help and for how long, and how this situation will affect our bills, mainly rent. Most of us just want enough to live our lives and keep our homes.
“For the most part, I’m enjoying the break and being forced out of my routine. I didn’t have the healthiest habits before, so being forced to slow down, embrace my relationships with friends and family, and develop new, healthier habits has been a secret bonus.”
Keegan Dewitt, 26
“I’m fortunate to still have my health and to not be working on the front lines right now. I am keeping a positive attitude while also being cautious and trying not to operate as if everything is normal. But more help needs to come from those with the real money and power to keep us alive and taken care of in this time of need. We shouldn’t have to liquidate our savings and possibly assets to survive this.
“From the government, I would be really excited to see some love for all the servers who make most of their income from tips. Even when I get EI, it will be a quarter bag of potato chips—like a snack pack version of what someone with a living wage would receive.
“It’s positive to see people giving each other space outside and in stores. I’ve seen people making the dishes they are known for and handing it out to people on their front porch. To see so many people doing whatever they can for their fellow humans is something beautiful, and I hope people feel the love and begin to see that as a norm.”
Carmen Stiller, 24
“My restaurant is closed until at least April 2, and we haven’t really heard from management—other than telling us to come remove personal belongings from our lockers. I found out my restaurant was closed from social media—I didn’t even get looped in on the email the CEO sent to all our customers.
“I’m despondent. I’m trying to bury myself in helping my co-workers, but we’re all the same level of uninformed. We’re not really sure if we’re laid off or just on hold. I’ve started to think about looking for a job in a different field. I’ve already tried to apply for EI, but with minimal guidance from my employer I fear I actually did it wrong. I’ve been trying to guide my co-workers through the process, but it’s really the blind leading the blind.
“It would be nice to have some reassurance that I’m not going to have to live on zero income for the foreseeable future. Ideally, our places of work would be mandated to pay us for our regular hours during this time, but I’m not hopeful.”
Norhan Haroun, 29
“I’m currently laid off, thanks to Covid-19. When the layoffs happened, our managers quickly put together our weekly tips so we could have some immediate cash, and everyone has been reaching out to each other, checking in to see if we have enough finances and food for the time being.
“I’m casually applying for jobs outside the industry, but it’s safe to say the likelihood of a headhunter searching for employees to work from home is majorly slim. But I finally got EI done: it only took two full days of mass-messaging coworkers and friends in similar boats, as well as being on hold for three hours with the EI hotline—after four hours of just trying to get through.
“But I’m delighted by what I’ve seen from the food community throughout all of this. At the Stop, the community food centre where I volunteer, we’re at maximum capacity for volunteers right now—I’ve never seen that before in the two and a half years I’ve been there.”
Daniel Lagana, 29
“I was laid off last Friday. I’m feeling stir crazy and pensive about the future, but I’m not currently looking for another job. My plan of action is to see if the quarantine lifts in the next couple of weeks. As of right now, I am just focusing on personal projects, and using this time to figure out some other career trajectories.
“I applied for EI after the announcement because of my precarious employment situation. The application process was a bureaucratic nightmare. The questions were vague and not tailored to the situation at hand. When I attempted to inquire over the phone, there was an automated response that customer service reps were not taking phone calls.”