Every day this week, I’ve started my day with a barrage of texts, detailing who’s sick and who’s not, who’s wiped out from their vaccination and who’s not, who’s too scared to be willing to come to work and who’s not. It consumes varying amounts of time- today was about an hour- and sets me on edge for the entire day. What’s difficult about it all is not only figuring out a way to keep the doors open from shift to shift; it’s figuring out the cascade of events projected by each of the potential scenarios. If one cook covers another’s shift, we’ll need to find a babysitter since his wife works in the dining room and they can’t both be here at once. Another one also needs a sitter, but she can’t leave the kids with any of her family members because they’re afraid that since she works in a restaurant, she’s exposed to too many potential hazards. The third possible replacement is a single dad, so again, child care. The dishwasher who was out last week still has his wife ill enough that they’re considering hospitalization. This morning we were trying to figure out whether we could close for lunch since fewer people come and shift the staff to dinner, but again, there were too many child care issues. Every shift that we’re open is literally one phone call away from being shut down.
My solution to the stress this morning was a bike ride, through five miles in I had a flat, and both of my compressed air cartridges blasted open in my hand, rendering them useless. After a spastic phone call, my wife was available with literally just enough time to come pick me up and get to work in time, so I got a ride home, changed my back tire again- defective tube the second time- and tried to squeeze in another ten miles. I got a flat in front, walked my bike to a nearby shop, bought some new stuff, and scrambled home in time to shower and change and load my truck up with meals for three apartment buildings.
Now we’re trying to figure out how many people we need to replace for tonight- we have one staffer who’s afraid to come in and another who’s on the brink, one out of town and one so sick from his vaccination that he can’t get out of bed.
Our numbers for tomorrow’s wine tasting are a rollercoaster- people are joining and canceling so quickly we can barely keep up, and if last week is any indication, that will continue until the last possible minute. You’re always welcome to join us from home, though. Here’s the scoop on that tasting of dry white wines:
As for tonight? I guess, like yesterday, and Wednesday, and Tuesday, we’ll just see. As for you? I mostly just want you to multiply this. This is happening at the majority of the nearly 9,000 restaurants in Arizona. Each one employs anywhere from half a dozen to a hundred people and change. In Arizona alone, about 265,000 people are experiencing this massive daily question mark: will I be able to go in to work and earn money today?
Now multiply it again. 15.1 million people work in restaurants in the United States, and they’re all teetering on the same brink we are, and here’s another statistic for you: 99% – that’s not a typo- 99% of them are independent, family-owned restaurants employing 50 people or fewer. Like us. Like, well, 99% of the restaurants in town, evidently. My morning, likely without the flat tires, but with their equivalent, is the morning of about 661,000 restaurateurs in this country, (which I’ll remind you is only one country out of 195,) and their chefs, sous chefs, dining room managers, cooks, server, bussers, bartenders, baristas, sandwich artists or whatever you choose to call us, and frankly, we’re exhausted by it. Even more so when I get the email saying someone has given us a one-star review on whatever platform I despise (I despise a number of them) because their steak was medium instead of medium rare, or they didn’t like the music we play in the dining room, or our food has too many ingredients. It might be a review saying we’re pretentious, or someone is angry because we didn’t have a table available when they walked in without a reservation, or we asked our guests to wear a mask to walk thirty feet to their table, or they didn’t like the signage on our restrooms. Or we’ve committed the grave offense of using Castelvetrano olives, so our cocktail olives don’t have pimentos. We’ve been criticized for all of the above, and plenty more. I’ve been yelled at on the phone for being unconstitutional, and for being a sheep, and for those restroom signs I mentioned.
While this all seems like an iceberg in and of itself, it’s really just the tip. This is one industry. I couldn’t say how many people are experiencing the same stressors in hotels, or airlines, theatre, music, retail, hair, nails and skin, groceries, and whatever other industry I can’t think of right now. Believe me, on a Monday, I have no interest whatsoever in being charming and pleasant to someone I barely know, or even polite. My solution is to stay away from humanity, though, because God help me if I become the person who’s been insensitive to me or the 48 people whom I’m grateful to work with, even the ones I don’t want to be polite to on my day off. I’m grateful to see any of you tonight, or tomorrow or Sunday, or any shift where we can cobble together enough of a crew to unlock the front door and sign in the order that come through the back. But I have no intention of seeing anyone come Monday.
Your grouchy and overwhelmed friend who’d better not have even one flat tire tomorrow,