The Argument For Servers To Get the Vaccine First

With the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines both awaiting emergency use approval from the Food and Drug Administration to fight the spread of COVID-19, it seems there is a very small light at the end of a very long tunnel. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) met last week to decide who would be the first to receive the vaccines once they are available and they have recommended that health care workers and nursing home residents should be the priority. That makes sense. But who should be next?

I say put restaurant workers on the top of that list and hear me out. Throughout this pandemic, restaurants have been in the news constantly because of state and local government’s insistence to shut them down or reduce their occupancy level. “Going out to bars and restaurants is dangerous,” they say. “It’s not safe for the employees or the customers,” they tell us. Restaurants have stayed open in some form for the last several months while restaurant workers and owners have struggled to make enough to pay their bills. If the government feels like restaurants and bars are such a hub for the virus, why not simply shut them all down completely and then pay those workers to stay home? Oh, right, that won’t happen because they already gave us a $1200 stimulus check back in April and that five dollars a day for the last eight months is totally enough to live on. Some workers received an additional $600 a week in unemployment benefits for a while, but a lot of people didn’t even get that, so off to work they went risking life and limb to get shitty tips from ungrateful customers.

And speaking of customers, how many of them complained about restaurants not being open enough or bitched about not being able to sit inside with a large party or whined that the menu was too small? Plenty of them did. They didn’t want their constitutional right to order guacamole and margaritas stomped on so they demanded that restaurants stay open.

“Okay, we’ll stay open for you, but you’ll have to wear a mask to enter,” said the restaurants.

“You can’t tell me what to do with my body,” they screamed. “Now bring me my Diet Coke!”

Fine then. If the government doesn’t want to do anything to financially help those of us who are literally and figuratively dying in the restaurant industry and if customers are so hell-bent on having a server deliver them a plate of four cheese mac & cheese with honey pepper tenders, then why not move restaurant and bar employees to the top of the list for the vaccine?

That makes more sense than bank tellers being next in line. Seriously, the American Bankers Association has asked the CDC to designate some of the financial-services industry as essential workers and prioritize them for the vaccine. Ummm, bank tellers wear masks and work behind bullet proof glass while dealing with customers who are also wearing masks. Servers are forced to stand inches away from unmasked customers. Maybe there’s a piece of plexiglass between the booths, but that doesn’t do anything for the one who’s wearing an apron. Besides that, customers can do their banking online. There is no ATM for a burger and fries.

Anyone who has the option to work from home should also fall down a notch or two on the list of vaccine prioritization. Yeah, I’m sure office workers are exhausted with virtual Zoom meetings with their boss, but they can stay at home and still work. A bartender doesn’t have that option. Teachers have been working from home, but let’s go ahead and move them up the list too. Kids need to be in classrooms, not just to learn reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic, but to also master social interactions and how to be little human beings away from their parents.

These vaccines could eventually lead us back to a life of normalcy, although what is normal now? Wearing masks will never seem weird again. We’ll probably always be aware of washing our hands more often and social distancing will forever be in the back of our minds. But the one thing that that people most often say they miss about pre-COVID days is going out to eat with friends and/or socializing at bars. So, let’s make sure that those of us in the service industry can help bring back that little slice of normal and be safe while doing it. Most of us who work in restaurants do it because we love it, but that doesn’t mean we want to get a case of the ‘rona while getting customers a side of Ranch dressing. Allowing restaurant and bar employees to get the vaccine as soon as possible will get the entire service industry back on its feet and finally allow us to feel safe while serving.

The service industry deserves and needs this vaccine as soon as possible. Period.

Out Bitched by a Bitch

Times being what they are, my restaurant is currently running with a skeleton crew. Like seriously, a crew of fossils and cartilage. On any any given night, there are only two staff members running the whole show; my boss who is the owner/chef and one other person each shift who is the server, bartender, busser, food runner, to-go person, host and telephone operator. My boss also washes all the dishes. Skeleton crew, indeed.

Two nights ago, we were slammed. With the phone ringing off the hook for pick-up orders and the iPad dinging every three minutes to alert us of another Grubhub. I barely had time to take care of the people who scoffed at the idea of COVID and ventured to eat indoors. My boss is standing in front of the grill that has no fewer than than ten burgers on it while simultaneously pan-searing chicken breasts, frying fries, making desserts and sautéing vegetables. I am bagging up to-go orders while trying to take orders and make two Manhattans at the very same time.

The phone rings again.

“No more to-go orders!” my boss yells across the open kitchen. “We can’t do it right now.” For someone who very rarely expresses emotion, the teensiest tinge of panic in his voice is slightly surprising.

I pick up the phone. “Hi there, can I help you?”

“I’d like to place an order to pick-up,” the woman on the other end of the line says to me.

“Unfortunately, we are just too busy right now to take anymore. Can I ask you to call back in twenty minutes, please?”

With a disgruntled sigh she agrees, so I hang up the phone and hop right back into the weeds.

Like clockwork, twenty minutes later the cordless phone in my apron rings again. I am standing at Table 15 taking an order and my boss immediately looks at me and shakes his head, so I send the call to voicemail. “She’ll call back,” I think.

And she does. Every thirty seconds for the next three minutes. But I am always too busy to answer it, feeling like I should give the bulk of my attention to the customers who are there in the flesh rather than someone on the phone who probably isn’t going to tip me anyway, so I let the phone ring in my apron one or two more times before silencing it. And then the phone just stops ringing at all. For the rest of the night, it’s as silent as a walk-in cooler when the fans are turned off.

At the end if the night when I’m leaving, I warn my boss he will probably have at least one or two messages on the answering machine. Thirty minutes later he texts me:

“You didn’t hang up the phone for 2.5 hours, so no messages.”

I must have accidentally left the phone on in my apron so anyone who called was getting a busy signal for over two hours. I felt awful.

The next day at work, I look at the caller ID and decide to call the woman back to apologize. I figure if I’m gonna be a bitch online, I can at least be kind in real life. Also, we can’t afford to lose a regular customer these days. I take a deep breath and dial the number which sends me to an answering machine.

“Hi, it’s Darron from the restaurant, I begin.  “I am so sorry about last night and I want to explain what happened…”

As I tell the story, the woman picks up the phone and I instantly recognize the same disgruntled voice from the night before.

“Hello,” she grunts. “I’m here.”

“Oh my god, I am so sorry. I didn’t mean for that to happen-“

She interrupts me. “Yeah, I was really annoyed.”

“I understand that and I apologize. When you first called I did expect that in twenty minutes we would be able to take your order, but you happened to call back when I was taking an order at another table and-“

She interrupts me again. “Is Tim still the only one doing all the cooking?” she wants to know.

“He is”, I explain. “And I’m the only other one here. Last night was a perfect storm of business when you called and then I inadvertently left the phone on which is why you were probably getting a busy signal or going to voice mail for the rest of the night. Again, I am so sorry.”

“Well, in my opinion, he just needs to hire someone else to help him cook.”

Wait, did she just say that? In the middle of a fucking pandemic when my boss is struggling to keep his restaurant open and I am risking my life to go there so I can continuously be stiffed on to-go orders and bag up food for Grubhub, she thinks my boss should just come up with another $500 a week to hire someone else? “Inhale and exhale, Darron,” I think to myself.

“Well, in a perfect world, that’s what he would do, but we aren’t living in a perfect world right now so this is what it is. I just wanted to reach out to apologize for your inconvenience last night. I’m so sorry.”

One more disgruntled sigh and then, “Well, I appreciate the effort of the phone call. Good bye.”

I try to prove to the universe I’m not always a bitch and someone out bitches me. Fucking 2020.

Job #13: Manager at a Putt-Putt Golf

Today is World AIDS Day. As some of you may know, I have been working on a second book called “108 Jobs and Counting.” It’s a series of stories about every job I have had over the course of my entire life. While this story has nothing to do with the restaurant industry, it does have something to do with AIDS and the love I have for my Uncle who dies in 1991. I hope you will read it.   -BW

Job #13: Manager at a Putt-Putt Golf

Stepping back on the greens this summer, there is a sense of confidence that wasn’t there last season. Having the title of manager bestowed upon me and maintaining my ability to soar through either of the two courses with an average score of ten under par makes me feel like Denver’s own Chi-Chi Rodriguez. Papo ‘dosa would be proud. On top of that, the 49% pay raise has ballooned my salary up to $5.00 an hour. Surveying my kingdom of 36 holes of prime miniature golfing opportunities, there is an increased sense of pride in the way the course looks today. The water traps have a fresh coat of light blue paint, the petunias have been plucked of dead blooms, the bathrooms have been scrubbed, and the green felt carpets have all been swept clean of leaves and debris. Sometimes, I like to imagine that this Putt-Putt golf course is my own personal Disneyland and I want it to be as special as it can be for the guests, but today, my Uncle Rene and his friend Kent will be showing up during my shift, on a trip from Houston to visit the Mile High City and see his nephew.

It took me years to realize that Kent wasn’t just Rene’s friend. Even going to their perfectly-decorated townhouse at Christmastime once as kid and seeing all the beautiful handblown glass decorations on their white flocked Christmas tree and watching them dote on their two miniature schnauzers wasn’t enough to clue me in that they were a couple. Kent had never been introduced to me as anyone other than Rene’s friend, so I took that at face value. I’m eager to see them both this weekend and not just because they’ll take me out to dinner, offering me a brief respite from tuna sandwiches or spaghetti with a can of tomato sauce that was on sale at King Soopers, four for a dollar. I’ve always wanted to grow up and be just like Rene. He has a convertible, lives in a beautiful apartment, travels to exotic locales like Key West and San Francisco and in his spare time he edits home movies that he shoots with his video recorder. As excited as I am to see him I’m also worried that he’s going to have some bad news to share. For several months, he has been fighting an illness that no one in my family is talking about. In the same way that no one has ever said out loud that Rene is gay, no one is saying out loud that he has AIDS.

It’s a hot July Saturday and my focus is to move the water sprinkler every thirty minutes to a different spot in the course so that the actual grass can stay as close to the same color of the green felt on all the holes. I don’t know what time Rene and Kent will show up, so the shift goes on just like every other one, giving away coupons for holes in one and praising the accomplishment on the loudspeaker. As I am dragging the water sprinkler from hole #13 to hole #5, desperately trying to keep the spray of water from dousing myself or any customers, my feet get entwined in the hose and I lose my balance, almost stepping into the water trap of hole #7. Recovering with very little grace, I look up to see Uncle Rene, his video camera pointing directly at me.

“Oh my god, how long have you been filming me?”

“Long enough and it was perfect.”

Immediately I know that a clip of me tangled up in a water hose will turn up in one of his highly edited home movie compilations of their vacations, probably accompanied with the theme song to Looney Tunes. After giving them the grand tour of all 36 holes, Rene and Kent tell me they will go check into their hotel and then meet me at my apartment later to take me to dinner.

The next day, I am a tourist in my own city, visiting the state capitol, the Denver Mint and the infamous Molly Brown House. I only know who she is because of the movie musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” so the house is a bit disappointing to me when I see absolutely nothing about Debbie Reynolds who starred in the film or Tammy Grimes who originated the role on Broadway. Rene and Kent are over the moon about the moldings on the ceilings and all the antique furniture and china, but I’m just looking forward to our lunch at a bar-b-q place called Oink’s. When we say our goodbyes, I hug both of them front of my apartment and as they drive off I wonder why he never told me what illness he has. If it’s AIDS, why wouldn’t he tell me? Does he think it would make me stop loving him? Nothing would ever make that happen.

******

As the summer winds down and the owner of the Putt-Putt continuously refuses to give me the necessary time off to audition for musicals that surely will catapult me to my rightful place in the spotlight, the job becomes less and less important. On Sunday morning when we are scheduled to open at noon, I arrive at the course at 11:58 ready to put in my two-minutes notice. After unlocking the padlock on the clubhouse, I slip inside to make sure everything is in place, neatly stacking the coupons and straightening the clubs. I put the key to the lock inside the cash register drawer and then retrieve a quarter from my pocket to make one final call from the pay phone. My fingers are trembling as I dial the number to the owner’s house. His wife picks up on the other end.

“Dorothy?” I ask. My shaky voice is betraying me and eroding he confidence I want to have.

“Yes, who’s calling?”

“It’s Darron from the golf course. I quit.”

And with that, I hang up the phone, close the drawer to the cash register with the keys inside, slip back out of the clubhouse, lock the padlock and get in my car to drive away. When I get back to my apartment, my answering machine is flashing its red light and I know who it is.

“Darron, this is Dallas and that’s the god damndest thing I’ve ever heard of. I’m gonna find out who your new employer is and call them to tell them what kind of person you you are.”

The joke’s on him though, because I don’t have a new employer, only auditions.

******

Two years have passed by and now I’m living in Houston, Texas. Uncle Rene is in hospice and his boyfriend Kent died just two weeks earlier. I’ve been putting off going to visit Rene because I’m too scared of what to say or how to act, so maybe Rene was right to never tell me what he was sick with. It’s only been the last few weeks that anyone in my family actually said out loud it’s AIDS. When I finally go to see him, I am shocked at his appearance. Gone is the joy in his face and the light in his eyes. He’s so thin and his wrist looks like a twig on the branch of a sad, tiny tree. He isn’t able to say hello to me; all he can do is look. The whites of his eyes are anything but white and they look scared and alone. “Does he even know that Kent died?” I wonder.

“Hi!” I tell him. The crack in my throat belies the forced cheerfulness, not unlike the shakiness of my voice when I quit my job at Putt-Putt two years ago. “You look great,” I lie. “I’m sorry I haven’t had a chance to visit, I’ve just been so busy,” I lie again.

He reaches out to me with his withered hand and I hold it, instantly feeling guilty for not being there more often. The twin bed and all the decor in this room is like nothing he would normally be around. There are no antiques or stylish artwork on the walls. It’s a place where people go to die and that’s exactly what it looks like. Small talk continues between me and my Dad while Uncle Rene lays in bed watching us and eventually I tell him, “I’ll come back and see you tomorrow.”

My fear of seeing him again and not being able to pretend that I’m not one step away from completely losing it means that the last thing I ever say to my uncle is a lie. I never go back to see him and he dies two days after I tell him I’ll come back to see him. Later on at his apartment, as my Dad and I start to pack away his things there are two things I know I want to find: one is his generous stash of weed and the other is the VHS tape of his trip to Denver. After some digging, both of them go into my bag, along with a pink glass ashtray. When I get back to my apartment, I smoke a joint using his marijuana and his ashtray and I pop the VHS tape into my VCR and there it is: video of me at Putt-Putt, all tangled up in a water hose and almost falling over into a water pit. And over that is a track of cartoon music, just as I expected there would be. Now, more than ever, I want to grow to be just like him someday.

Job #13: April 16, 1989 to September 3, 1989

4 Things Your Server Wants You to Know About Dining Out During Covid

Cruising into our seventh month of living through a pandemic, everyone is still adjusting to the new normal and wondering if we will ever have the old normal back again. Each day brings more adjustments we all have to deal with, but there are few things restaurant workers would like everyone to know before they go out to eat during these COVID days.

1.  We’re over it too. As much as you wish you didn’t have to wear a mask when you enter the restaurant, we wish we it even harder since we’re wearing it for our entire shift. We know how disappointed you are at not being allowed to have 15 of your closest friends celebrate your birthday with you. We too are disappointed that we no longer get to serve big parties in our section to help increase our check averages and make bigger tips. You’re tired of having your temperature checked before you’re allowed to eat indoors? Well, we’re tired of taking your temperature because we’re restaurant employees, not healthcare workers. You don’t need to tell us that you’re “over it” because everyone in the whole entire world feels the exact same way.

2.  We don’t make the rules. Servers are literally at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to creating restaurant policy, so please don’t take out your COVID frustrations on us if you’re unhappy with a new rule or regulation. Yelling at an 18-year-old waitress who is trying to serve you steak au poivre and scalloped potatoes isn’t going to change a mandate that came from a restaurant manager, a district manager, or the governor of your state. Empty tables in a restaurant doesn’t mean you can be seated right away if the restaurant is only at 25% capacity. Believe me, it’s not our rule and 25% capacity means we’re taking a substantial pay cut. It also helps keep us safe, but don’t be mad at us for enforcing rules we didn’t come up with. We are but the messengers, so please don’t shoot us when we ask you to put your mask on as you walk to the restroom. No, really, please don’t shoot us.

Read the rest of the article by clicking here. 

When Your Regulars Become Your Friends

When you wait tables at the same restaurant for almost ten years like I have, you eventually develop a relationship with some of the customers and they become your regulars. Over the years, after sharing stories about each of your lives, one day you realize they are no longer just a customer. They’re your friends.

John and Mildred come into the restaurant pretty much every Thursday for date night. If they know they won’t be there, it’s not uncommon for Mildred to send me a text message giving me a heads up so I won’t worry. I know about their jobs, their vacations, their families and they know all the same things about me. One night, John called Mildred his betrothed and then looked at me for my reaction?

“Are you guys engaged?” I asked, full of excitement.

“Finally,” Mildred told me.

“When’s the wedding?” I wanted to know.

John held his hand up, palm facing outward. “Let’s not rush it or anything.”

This was easily two years ago and the date of their wedding has been a running joke ever since. The only thing more consistent than their order, (Caesar salad to share, a burger, medium-rare with goat cheese and bacon for John and the grilled salmon with no couscous and sub green beans for Mildred with a side of sweet chili sauce for her and a side of mayo and Tabasco for him), is there difference of opinion on when and how the actual wedding would take place.

It’s been four months since I’ve waited on them (thanks, COVID), but since we live in the same neighborhood, we bump into each other hear and there. It’s always nice to see them and I especially love when Mildred sends me a text on a Thursday night to say hello. A few weeks ago, I made burgers at home and decided to have goat cheese and bacon on mine which merited a text message to Mildred to tell John how delicious it was. A few weeks ago, another text message from Mildred pinged on my phone asking for my email address. They wanted to send me a link to their Zoom wedding! I guess with nothing else to do during the pandemic, John finally gave in to a date.

Yesterday, I sat in my bedroom with my laptop and watched my two regulars get married in a backyard in upstate New York. As John sang a song a accompanying himself on guitar, Mildred made her way onto my computer screen and into their life as husband and wife. Tears welled up in my eyes because after years of seeing them almost every night, I know how perfect they are for one another. They make each other laugh, she calls him “mi amour” ever since their trip to Paris, he encourages her to continue her ballroom dancing classes and they truly love each other. When they were officially announced as husband and wife, I threw confetti at my laptop and wiped another tear from my face.

As a server, I feel lucky to call so many of my customers friends. It makes me proud that Mildred and John thought enough of me to allow me to be a part of their big day. Congratulations to them! I look forward to when I can put on my apron again and bring John a beer (21st Amendment, Brew Free or Die! unless there’s a beer special that also has a 7% alcohol content) and Mildred a cocktail (only one though, because it’s a school night). Waiting tables can be a mixed bag, but when you get to wait on people you care about and who care about you, it hardly feels like work at all.

Don’t Be Like David

I have never participated in dating apps because I’ve been married for almost thirty years. When I was dating back in the mid to late 80s, we had this thing called personal ads in the newspaper and you had to literally read the ad, write a letter, put a stamp on it and then see if they ever wrote back to you.  My most memorable date was when the guy showed up to my apartment wearing acid washed jeans and jacket along with white leather fringe cowboy boots and he took me to Taco Bell, but that’s another blog post. These days, you have to create the perfect profile picture along with a carefully crafted bio and then let people swipe left or right based on a split second decision. If your profile says that you are a server/bartender, that shouldn’t determine whether you’re dateable or not. In the case of Tara, she was told by David, a complete and random starter, that it did make a difference:

While you are drop dead gorgeous a bsrtender [sic]/server drops you to an 8-9. You wanna be a 10 you’re gonna have to step up your game. There are women out there as gorgeous as you sporting engineering degrees and JDs. Just sayin’. But I would still date you.

So I wanna just understand David’s thought process. He’s aimlessly swiping left or right trying to decide if she should either find a date or just spend yet another evening with a bottle of lube, a glass of cheap whiskey and PornHub. Tara’s profile shows up on his screen and even though he finds her attractive enough to date, he still feels the need to disparage her occupation. He doesn’t bother to tell Tara what his occupation is and he doesn’t even feel it necessary to check for any spelling errors. He just sends the message because he’s a man and surely a pretty blond woman like Tara would welcome the helpful feedback, right?

Wrong. Tara wrote him write back:

Wow, now I see COMPLETELY WHY you are 56 years old and single. Having the audacity to say that someone’s occupation defines their value makes it 100% OBVIOUS what a disgusting human being you are. “But you would still date me,” huh?!? Well guess what, I wouldn’t date you, or that mega mole on the side of your OVER INFLATED HEAD!!!!! It’s sad, really; you’re old enough to be my dad and yet you have the mental capacity of a six year old. I could shovel 💩 for a living and would still be a better person than your sorry self. Having a degree don’t make anyone better than anyone else!!! Again, you’re disgusting! 😘

I couldn’t have said it better myself, Tara.

If someone is reading this who is considering what their online dating profile should say, please know that you can put whatever you want. Anyone who judges you for your profession doesn’t deserve to be with you, okay? Maybe people are more apt to swipe a certain way if you say you’re doctor or an attorney, but if seeing that you work in food service makes hem swipe away, you dodged a bullet with that one. Don’t be a David. Be a Tara.

4/19/20 EDIT: A few people have reached out to me to say that David is married. And then someone who claims to be his wife commented wanting to know more information. All i know is what i wrote. I wasn’t trying to dissolve a marriage here. I was just calling someone out for trying to make a server feel bad about being a server. I have removed the larger photo of him, but will leave his original post along with his small profile photo. Damn, this got messy…