A COVID Perspective: A Restaurant Server Tells All

3 min read

The restaurant industry has been hit hard since the pandemic, as restaurants are limited to 25% capacity of their usual space. Because of this restriction, wait times are longer, labor has been scaled back, and overall inventory is down. As consumers, how are we considering these changes when we take a trip to a restaurant amidst this new reality? 

Consumer $ense spoke with a waitress at a corporate restaurant to better understand how their business operations have changed since COVID-19 and what exactly consumers should expect before they dine-in. Here’s the rundown:

First, the inventory is limited and constantly fluctuating.

With a limited number of guests, a restaurant can expect less revenue, which leads to restaurants ordering lower food and beverage stock on a weekly basis. Not only are they ordering less, but the time it takes to receive their orders has increased. Remember, the pandemic has impacted every link in the supply chain. With this in mind, a restaurant may not have as many options as you are used to. This includes drinks, special items, extras and more. 

Second, labor has been scaled back.

You may experience longer wait times to be seated because of capacity restrictions, but you may also notice longer wait times for your meal because of limited labor. With less revenue, restaurants are seeking to cut costs and that means cutting labor. The restaurant may not be as crowded as before, but there are less servers and less cooks as well who are all working very long hours to keep the restaurant going.

Your servers has no control over these restrictions.

They understand your frustrations: they’re out of wings, you waited an hour for a table, the service is slow, and a mask is required if you want to stand up. Unfortunately, they don’t have control over when stock comes in or how many cooks are in the back that night, but they definitely still want you to have a positive experience. 

Some limitations are for your safety.

Each restaurant is doing something different. For this restaurant in particular, instead of portioning out small cups of condiments to accompany your meal, they have individual bottles that they sanitize regularly. Additionally, customers are required to ask for sugar when they need it rather than having the convenience of the caddy at your table. These policies are put in place in accordance with corporate and CDC guidelines to minimize contact between guests.  

In some states (like PA), you are required to order food.

Unfortunately, you can’t go to a restaurant just to order a drink and watch the game anymore. Specifically in Pennsylvania, all customers at a restaurant are required to purchase a meal, which has significantly impacted bar-service restaurants. The “order prohibited bar service and the sale of alcohol for on-premise consumption without the purchase of a prepared meal.”

In addition to this rule, the 25% capacity limit put in place for indoor dining has severely limited the amount of tables available. Because of this, restaurants are not advertising deals as often as before, which is why you may have noticed your favorite weekly promotions (like going to half price wings on Wednesday’s with the guys) is not on their social media. It has been a tough struggle for restaurants between attempting to make up lost sales while also staying within capacity guidelines.

Clearly, going to a restaurant has the potential to be a very different experience for both the staff and the consumers. It is important to take these changes into consideration before you venture out expecting the same experience as before the pandemic. So from the eyes of a server, how should consumers approach the restaurant environment the next time they go out? 





What restaurant servers want consumers to know:


Please be patient! The wait times are longer because of labor cuts that unfortunately, your server has no control over. If you experienced longer than normal wait times to be seated and to get your meal, try not to take it out on your server’s tip. If you’re able- tip well (20% is all they ask!) because your server may not be working as often as they’d like.


Eating out at a restaurant before the pandemic was a relaxing, social event for people to get out of the house and get out of cooking for one night! With all of the restrictions and safety protocols, remember before you go: we are still in a pandemic and there are still restrictions. Your servers are just doing the best they can with what they have to give you a safe experience!


Remember your mask! The mask policy will be enforced when you are seated initially and every time you stand up to use the restroom or need to quick grab something from your car. Just like retail, it is part of a server’s position to politely ask for compliance. Don’t worry- you can take it off as soon as you are seated.


Speaking of remember- grab your phone and make sure it is charged. Aside from one-time use disposable menus, some restaurants are using QR codes that consumers can scan with their phone to see the menu. Who knows, maybe physical menus will remain a thing of the past. 


Lastly, a quick look at the future of restaurant operations: 


As we draw farther away from Labor Day, the cooler weather will begin to creep in and restaurants will face another challenge. The warm summer months allowed many restaurants to take advantage of outside seating in order to bypass the indoor capacity restrictions. With an unknown future in terms of restrictions, some restaurants are considering how to extend outdoor seating into the fall and winter. Some are looking to install permanent patio spaces with built in heaters and/or fireplaces. Taking inspiration from restaurants in Paris, Toronto, and Colorado ski resorts, the future of outdoor dining could include the use of “heat lamps, fireplaces, windbreaks, cushy furniture and plenty of blankets to make sure that guests stay warm. Mood lighting, hot cocktails, fresh air and firelight add up to more than just dinner – it’s a dining experience under the stars.”


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