Restaurants have opened, steadily increasing their indoor capacity. Simultaneously, consumers have decreased their to-go orders, choosing to dine-in more and more. What sort of relationship has been created between diners and servers? And what does this mean for restaurants as winter approaches?
As you make your way down Newbury Street, there is a growing crowd. In April, the sidewalks were empty as stores and restaurants had virtually no customers. Today, there is more and more foot traffic. You see the usual holiday decorations, as twinkling lights begin to twirl up the trees which have slowly lost their colored leaves. They are joined by orange roadblocks and furnaces that surround a smattering of metal chairs and small tables. You squeeze by the lines of people waiting to be seated and dodge servers bringing out food. The street feels more crowded than it should, and with this comes a daunting sense of normalcy.
This sense of normalcy has led to an increase in the amount of people choosing to dine-in, rather than carry out. As quarantine fatigue continues to uptick, more and more people are spending time outside, before the reality of winter settles in and keeps people in. The transition through Phases III and IV of the Massachusetts plan has facilitated this. Following the decline in the COVID-19 positivity rate, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker loosened restrictions across the state. An executive order was signed not only to increase the restaurant reservation group number to ten people, but it also extended the time frame for outdoor dining. Additional financial assistance has provided relief for restaurants in an attempt to keep them open. Boston’s Reopening fund plan offers grants to businesses, covering the costs of equipment to stay open throughout the winter. These policies and efforts have allowed individuals to step outside more, using restaurants as a break from the indoors. But how does this impact servers, restaurant workers, and restaurants themselves?
As restrictions have loosened, Boston has seen an increase in COVID-19 cases, raising concerns for restaurants who fear joining the 20% that have already closed during the pandemic. In anticipation of a second spike, there is a greater concern of what the winter will look like.
Restaurants can no longer depend on their own protocols to ensure their safety and the safety of the community. They must work together with customers, encouraging a mutual of responsibility to uphold safe COVID-19 practices. Restaurants and their workers have faced the pressures of a shift in responsibility. Not only do they continue to offer food & drinks and practice strong customer service skills, they must now shift their logistics work to account for COVID-19 guidelines. Restaurant workers must be trained in these guidelines and protocols, essentially becoming “public health guardians,” as noted by a New York Times Article.
The heightened responsibility and clear dependency in the diner and restaurant worker dynamic has brought mixed-feelings. Some servers have felt the added stress in the riskiness of their tasks. Others understand the significance of this new role. Lucas Gatz, MCAS ‘23, notes that customer interactions while working as a Boston College Dining employee “makes a shift worthwhile.” Noting that some people only leave their dorm to eat, he wants to make the dining experience as normal as possible. Yet he, like many others, longs to return to a time where interactions between servers and diners were light-hearted. Working at The Circle Pizza, Scottie Crockett, MCAS ‘23, has felt the effects of this added pressure of responsibility. During the pandemic, the restaurant itself lost its identity as a bar scene for Boston College students. Now, Scottie notes that, while students have followed restaurant protocols for the most part, the potential of unsafe practices affecting The Circle Pizza has “added an unnecessary amount of stress on us servers and our bosses.”
So what does all of this mean? There is a growing dependence. Restaurant goers also rely on restaurants to stay open throughout the winter holiday season to ease the fatigue of quarantine, especially as Massachusetts guidelines and restrictions remain. To do so however, restaurants rely on their customers to follow these guidelines, keeping the restaurant afloat and their workers safe and employed. This means people should continue to support local businesses, rather than using COVID-19 as an excuse to avoid dining altogether. When you dine-in, take a second to recognize the role you play. If you do so, while also following restaurant and COVID-19 practices, this strongly intertwined dynamic can protect the restaurant industry with the hopes of normalcy in the future.