As restaurants reopen and life seems to feel normal again, we must not believe that the pandemic is over.
For over two months, Michigan diners were given the choice to order take out, or bear the cold in various restaurant-orchestrated tents that were deemed “outdoor eating.” As of Feb. 1, restaurants may now seat 25% of their typical capacity.
With the one-year anniversary of the initial Coronavirus shutdown drawing near, I understand the pandemic fatigue. For workers, this has been devastating. Even with Gov. Whitmer’s recent $106 million aid bill and the extension of unemployment benefits, it is a struggle for many businesses to stay afloat. For many others, it proved to be impossible. To be frank, our economy was not built to withstand this pandemic.
As a college student currently washing dishes at a small business, I am excited for dine-in eating. As someone who has not yet received the first COVID-19 vaccine and has seen people pass up their opportunity to do so, I am terrified.
Over 15,000 Michigan residents have died from COVID-19. I am proud to say that my place of employment does take necessary safety precautions such as masking, sanitization, and contact tracing. Still, this statistic hangs in my head as I serve elderly customers. When I hand them food, I know that they will eat it with silverware that other people have used.
It almost makes me feel guilty to say these things. My focus on limiting the spread of the virus is not at the expense of my restaurant. I enjoy my job and do not want my employers to lose their business. The most frustrating thing about this situation is the apparent ultimatum of safety or money to pay the bills.
In an ideal world, all our businesses and workers would be properly compensated for the lack of patronage during a pandemic. I strongly believe that the grand responsibility of keeping our communities both safe and funded should not fall on the average consumer. As this is our current reality, however, it is imperative that everyone remembers that the risk of contracting COVID-19 can only be minimized, never eliminated.
I’m sure other workers who have been deemed “essential” throughout this trying time feel just as conflicted as I do. It is difficult to celebrate incremental progress towards traditional life when each new phase assures new risk.
If you do choose to dine in, I only ask for you to be considerate of the staff and fellow patrons. To many, this comes with common sense. Unfortunately, pandemic etiquette is still not second nature to everyone around me. I am continuously surprised by the number of customers who will walk barefaced into an establishment with a clear mask policy and roll their eyes as a worker politely asks them to cover up.
To make your waitstaff happy, stay home if you’re showing symptoms, travel in small groups, wear a mask before being seated, and tip well. We can only make it through this pandemic together.