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Restaurant workers on how their lives have been changed by the coronavirus

Many servers, baristas, and bartenders have already been laid off. Now they’re looking to the government for help.

By Gaby Del | Mar 24, 2020, 7:10am EDT

As the coronavirus spreads to more and more cities in the US, restaurants across the country are scaling back their services — or shutting their doors altogether — to help slow the spread of the disease. Some cities, including San Francisco, have ordered all non-essential businesses to close indefinitely. In some cases, this means bars and restaurants can stay open, but only for takeout and delivery (which have been classified as essential). This precaution cuts down on foot traffic but also means lower wages for staffers who rely on tips to make ends meet.

Mai, worked at a Vietnamese restaurant in New York City

Hourly wage before tips: $10

We started losing customers when the first cases in New York were announced. First the locals stopped coming, then the NYU students. There was a time when only the international students were coming.

We’re a big college-campus restaurant, so we rely on students a lot. When they go on break, we cut our shifts. Our shifts started getting cut [the second week in March]. We had two servers and two bussers on the floor, and then we just had one busser and one server. We used to fill the restaurant; we’d have lines out the door. Last week, after the schools had closed, we didn’t have anyone for the first hour, and we maybe filled half the store. During peak season, if I worked four days, which is 27 hours, I’d make like $650 a week, which came out to around $25 an hour, more or less, depending on the tips. Last week, we went from 150 tickets a shift to 20 tickets a shift. Minimum wage is $10 an hour, so we basically just made $70 a shift.

Then they closed.

It’s a small family business. Most of the people who work there are people the owner knows personally, and none of us are career servers. I’m not sure if it’s within his means to give anyone PTO, especially not now. I feel like it’s the government’s job to bail everyone out.

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