COVID-19: Real Effects on Restaurant Employees
We face an unprecedented change with the onset of the coronavirus. Our series “COVID-19: The Real Effects on Restaurant Employees,” is designed to look at the people directly impacted by the changes around them. As the crisis forces more and more restaurants and businesses to make hard choices, we are talking to the people who make up our restaurant community and get their insights into what has changed and what they hope for the future.
For the last two and a half decades, Lee Fetzer has worked in the restaurant industry. What started as a side job blossomed into a long-term career that spanned multiple positions across the country. With COVID-19 restricting in-house traffic, Fetzer has seen the effects of the layoffs that have plagued the industry since in-house restaurant traffic was restricted to help curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Fortunately, Fetzer has a safety net through his partner, who has kept her full-time work and recognizes his good fortune despite the state of affairs.
What got you into restaurant work initially?
Lee Fetzer: In my mid-twenties, I worked at a small bar and grill on Bardstown Rd [Louisville, KY]. I took the job because of a friend and out of necessity. After that, I worked office jobs for a few years, including an electric company. During the crash of 2007-08, I got laid off, so it was hard finding a job. Again, a friend had an opportunity at a restaurant, and I needed a job, so I started making pizzas at Bluegrass Brewing Company.
In what kind of positions have you worked? What position did most recently you hold? What keeps you in the restaurant industry?
LF: I have officially clocked in as a cook, host (one night), bartender, manager, and server. My current (laid off) job is as a server. I go back because somehow I’m good at it. I have the worst memory and crazy ADD, but with coping mechanisms, I do great. I can make good money for the amount of hours worked, and they are flexible with my band schedule.
When did the coronavirus begin to impact sales? When did management shut down?
LF: We closed on March 7th for dine-in. That was before it was mandated. Sales were only down maybe 25%, but the owner’s elderly parents work in the kitchen. He did not want them to be around the servers bringing back dirty dishes. The servers were just more people to potentially have the virus, so he went to take out only.
Were you laid off? Was the restaurant shuttered, or are there plans to reopen?
LF: I actually haven’t even gone by to check if they are still open at all. The plan was to go to just carry-out until all this blows over. [The restaurant owner] said we can all come back when they open.
Can you draw unemployment? Do you have benefits? Can you get benefits if needed?
LF: I have not worked there long enough. I didn’t even get that far into it. I don’t have any check stubs to prove how much I made because our owner just gives us a check. Taxes are so wonky in the restaurant business. I can’t really prove anything. I only work 15 to 20 hours a week.
How did you feel when you closed? Were you concerned about getting or transmitting the virus?
LF: This is really privileged, but I mostly felt bad for my co-workers. They are young; one is a single mom. I was very concerned about transmitting it. Being married to a healthcare professional, and doing her laundry every day, I get about every germ known to man on me. I rarely get sick, but you never know. I was just afraid of running food and clearing tables.
What do you wish people would know about how CV-19 has impacted the restaurant business?
LF: I am sure most people know that many are laid off. My personal crusade, even before this, is tipping servers when they do your takeout. It takes as much effort to put together a takeout order, as it does to wait on a table, plus time away from your tables. Please tip servers processing your carry-out. I guess that is even more important now.
Do you have a story that you’d like to share? Do you know a story ideal for our COVID-19: Real Effects on Restaurant Employees series or know any restaurateur who is working hard right now to keep the lights on? We want to know. Sound off in the comments. And if you have a good tip on any restaurants with novel solutions, let us know!
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About the Author
Syd was a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot. He’s at home like the rest of the world right now but finding time to play with the kids and create art.