“After reviewing your application, I think you’d be a perfect fit to work here, and I’d love to offer you a job as a hostess at our restaurant.”
With the economy and employment levels spiralling, hearing those surprising words in the middle of the pandemic lifted financial burdens and worries off of my shoulders. Yet my relief was quick to subside, taken over by the fear and uncertainties that come with being employed at a time like this.
As a public-facing worker in the food and beverage industry until recently, I can attest to the constantly changing expectations, increased pressure, and unpredictability in my work routine and environment that COVID-19 has caused. With the new restraints on physical contact and social interaction, I had to quickly adapt to the job responsibilities of someone paid to interact with and serve the public.
Some changes were easier to grasp, such as speaking coherently and loudly with a fabric mask on and spending my downtime sanitizing menus, my work station, and the plastic barriers in the restaurant.
Other practices took a bit longer to get used to. Greeting customers and immediately requesting their contact tracing information initially made me feel invasive, but it quickly became as natural as asking someone how their day is going. I still felt uncomfortable every time I had to tell customers that we couldn’t seat groups of more than six people — more so when I had to explain why.
I learned to anticipate the amount of customers coming in based on the daily news. With news of an outbreak or increase in cases, the restaurant would stay quiet, and the majority of my shift would be spent sanitizing any and every possible surface. I slowly realized my own financial security was just as volatile as the restaurant’s sales, having shifts cut short or cancelled on a moment’s notice.
While I received a degree of protection from the health and safety measures enforced by my workplace, every time I went to work I was putting my health at risk. Despite having a mask on, sanitizing my hands, and maintaining physical distance, I gave up the controlled safety of staying at home.
I didn’t get to avoid feeling uncomfortable on the bus when someone decided to take the seat right next to me. I didn’t get to avoid the customers who don’t take COVID-19 seriously, much less the inebriated ones coming in on their bar crawl. I didn’t get to avoid fearing every customer sneezing and coughing in my vicinity.
The privilege that being able to work every shift granted me was evenly matched by the paired stress and risk of exposure, and I believe this goes for everyone currently working with the public.
Nothing about a pandemic is comfortable; working with the public during one is certainly far from it. However, with scrutinizing the struggle of working amid COVID-19 comes the need to acknowledge and appreciate the privilege of being able to work.
Halfway through writing this piece, though, I was laid off. The troubling part is knowing that I am not alone in facing the current reality of job loss and insecurity. I was fortunate to have had a job and a source of income in the midst of such uncertain times. It is an opportunity not everyone is given and one that I hope to regain soon.
These are unprecedented times for us all, and it’s equally important to recognize our ability to either make it easier or harder for each other. Let this confession serve as a lasting reminder to continuously extend kindness and consideration to the workers in your community who you come across.