No matter how much we wish "I think it's fine," was equal to "The pandemic is over," there are still COVID-19 cases popping up in alarming numbers and there are still people who seemingly refuse to take the situation seriously—or wear a mask when it's most needed. For Santa Fe server Jen Stillions, those are both luxuries she can't afford.
A native of the Chicago area and a Santa Fean for four years, Stillions was recently forced back to foodservice following the shutdown and has since authored a revealing social media post about her experience so far. You can read it in the most recent edition of SFR's food newsletter The Fork. In the piece, Stillions broke down what an average day back at work is like, and in its most basic terms, much of the issue is about how restaurant patrons are not observing proper mask etiquette. For an at-risk worker (Stillions has asthma) with no choice but to go back to work that's a tough pill to swallow. I just had to learn more (but we won't be naming her workplace so as to make her life easier).
SFR: How long have you worked in foodservice?
Stillions: Over 25 years. Like, my whole life, from the graveyard shift at Denny's to fine dining. I've been in my current job for…the week before the pandemic lockdown was three years.
You’ve probably been asked this a lot, but what made you write the piece on social media?
It was sheer frustration. One table after another, the masks come off the second people sit down, and I'm high-risk, I felt like I could visualize little particles of virus hitting me. I was so frustrated.
What has the response been like so far?
I haven't gotten any opposing voices locally or in my immediate circle. I don't know if you're familiar with the Bitchy Waiter [Facebook] page, but they somehow got ahold of my post and shared it and there are thousands of comments, and some are pretty nasty. There are a lot of anti-mask people, and I just don't get it. But I've had regulars reach out to me, and some woman from another state sent me a private message that she wanted to send me $100 as an apology for all the people who are tipping badly. She randomly sent me $100. I cried.
It seems like a lot of people think “If you’re worried about getting sick, just don’t go back to work,” but people in foodservice—and a lot of fields—don’t often have that choice, right?
100%, that's what I keep hearing. But I wasn't given that choice. None of us were given that choice. The government flat-out said if you're called back and you don't go back, you'll lose your unemployment. They were kind of saying if you could get a doctor's note, you could maybe still get the unemployment, but I'm a waitress, I don't have insurance—how am I going to get a doctor's note at this point? And to be totally honest, I was kind of sick of sitting at home, and I also thought I was going to be very well protected.
But patrons just aren’t taking the masks seriously?
I have a friend who was working a hosting shift at a different restaurant, and she was saying that on Friday night, at the door, she was asking [customers] to keep their masks up until the server was not at their table. Nobody listened to her. 90% of people, masks are off the second they sit down.
Where you work, can you ask people nicely to pull them up?
I started doing that last night. I kind of had it out with my boss and said this wasn't cool, and she said I was welcome to say something. Every single table last night was masks off the second they hit the chair, so I said 'would you guys mind pulling your masks up, at least until I have your order in the computer?' And people were nice about it, but everybody wants to chit-chat. They've been locked in their houses for two-and-a-half months. And my voice is also muffled behind my mask—they can't hear me, plus there's no standing six feet back and going over specials and what kind of tequila we have.
What can we as patrons be doing to better keep servers in mind?
I think, really, the basic thing is keep your mask on. Be patient. The more you have to call your server to your table for piddly shit, the more chances of exposure there are. People aren't being compassionate. Some are, but we have so many tourists in town right now. I don't know what they're doing here. But also, here's the thing—and I totally understand and feel it: Most of the restaurants in this town are small businesses, and they took a HUGE hit from the shutdown, so I think a lot of them are just so grateful to be open and have business coming in that they don't want to alienate their customers. But by the same token, I'm not sure they're thinking about what happens if there's even one case. They'd have to shut the restaurant down, quarantine the staff, get everyone tested. I feel that they're like, 'I don't wanna piss anybody off,' and I don't see managers [speaking up] unless it's a corporate place and they're well-protected by the corporation. Small businesses are struggling with that. We're still not making even half of what we used to make, and it would be nice if people took that into account and tipped a little more…