May 31, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 58°F


Commentary: Restaurant workers need empathy

My favorite question asked while on a two-hour wait at a local Ithaca restaurant is, “Well, why do I see so many empty tables?” The answer is the same as most restaurants around the country that are down 12% in employment from pre-COVID times. 

While that question irks me, I have experienced much more cruel interactions while working at a restaurant. As a hostess, we are the first faces you see when entering. We are also responsible for making our best estimate of wait times and informing the guest of such. And yes, it can be well over two hours for a table. Due to subsequent impatience, my coworkers and I have been spat on, sworn at, and persistently bothered by hundreds of guests throughout the summer and into the fall.

We need more kindness during one of the hardest times of our lives — over a year into the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The American Medical Association states four in 10 Americans claim the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health. This can result in feeling “pandemic anger,” or “pangry,” from a variety of factors during these hard times. These feelings of anger and anxiety are still valid, yet should not be reflected on community workers, especially when these outcomes are in no one’s control. 

Being kind to people can also be rewarding. Studies reported by the BBC show that “volunteering correlates with 24% lower risk of early death.” Participants were also told to complete random acts of kindness. This decreased activity of genes is related to inflammation in the body. Although volunteering or random acts of kindness may be more difficult during the pandemic, there are still ways to go out of your way to be kind. Focusing on spending money and caring for others also results in better hearing, improved sleep and lower blood pressure, according to the BBC.  

Humans are innately social beings and creating these connections with one another benefits all parties involved. Apt Cape Cod Restaurant in Massachusetts, as reported by WGBH, closed the restaurant for a day to bring attention to the increase in aggressive customers. It received tons of support, as many others agreed this is an issue, both within the restaurant industry and others. It also got positive feedback in the form of letters from people all over the country and the world. 

As I hesitate to inform people of our current wait time at the restaurant in fear of their automatic angry response, I try to remember the root causes of this emotion. We are over a year into an isolating and frustrating pandemic. However, our lack of staff that results in crazy wait times and disorganization is not something we can control. We have less than half our usual staff, but still about 100 tables within the restaurant. We are trying our best to work with the current circumstances. Many restaurants in Ithaca have this same issue. The restaurant infrastructure allows more people to be accommodated, but a lack of staff limits the ability. 

Next time you enter a restaurant in Ithaca or elsewhere, I ask you to be patient with the surrounding staff. As my manager likes to say: “It’s dinner. It’s not that deep.”