A Hospitality Worker’s Guide for Guests in The Age of Covid-19

Illustrations by Russell Tudor

The day I decided to commit to the hospitality industry for the long haul, I made myself a promise. That promise was that if I ever became a salty, jaded, or generally misanthropic person, I would evict myself from this particular line of work. So far, so good—however, this year has introduced an array of layers that I certainly couldn’t have planned for. None of us in hospitality knew that our (already) physically and mentally challenging jobs were about to be put into permanent Expert Mode with a super complex Pandemic Expansion Pack none of us ordered—and now find ourselves playing without the aid of a manual. (Or, at best, a manual that changes every day. Fun!)

Of course, this is not a game. This is hospitality in the age of Covid-19 and, in writing this, I have been given a very important microphone. This power scares me, and I am writing with care and hesitance because I want to be effective without sounding ungrateful for having a job in the first place. That being said, here is what I can offer you, the guest, as guidance for dining (or drinking) out during the pandemic.

(Most) businesses are not one-size-fits-all. 

This may be the single most important point anyone can take from this. Business owners choose to dedicate their lives (and finances) to making their own unique path in the world because they have a vision and want autonomy. They want to deliver an experience they believe in, with rules that represent their values and vision. This is not going to please everyone. They are trying their best to accommodate you, oftentimes compromising their vision or standards. Simply because you do not like how a business is run does not mean that a business owner has to change for you. You have one choice to make: return, or don’t. (Oh, and you don’t have to announce that you will never come back. It’s okay; we know when it’s not meant to be before you even say it.)

Bonus pro-tip: The enforcement of mask-wearing and social distancing is mandatory as per the State Liquor Authority (SLA). The SLA decides who gets (and loses) their liquor license—and in case you didn’t know, losing a liquor license is essentially GAME OVER for hospitality businesses. Do not hold mask policies against business owners or staff; they are literally trying to protect their bread and butter. Just do the thing, man.

Rude and entitled behavior needs to be banned—forever. (And it’s been a long time coming.)

If you are in a bad mood (understandable, these days), fighting with your partner, or are the kind of person who is wildly inconvenienced by face coverings: stay home. Unless you are here to relax, enjoy a meal, and generally have a nice time, why are you here at all? Take that bad vibe and talk it out with a family member or a friend. Do not bring your anger out into the world; we have enough (figurative and literal) fires! 

At the door: Do not bully the host if you don’t have a reservation; that’s on you for not planning. Remember, they are the keeper of the tables! If you are kind and calm, you are more likely to get “squeezed in.” There is a substantial amount of wizard-work a host must do to rearrange all the reservations to make it happen. And sometimes (often, actually) it is totally impossible. Plan ahead if you don’t like waiting, period. 

(Also, just because a table is empty does not mean it’s available. We are holding it for someone who did make a reservation. Stop pointing at it and going, “Well, what about that one?”)

When ordering: Your server is walking longer distances these days (6-10 miles per day is not an exaggeration), with a face covering, while carrying the subconscious dread of a global pandemic. Be COOL. Be NICE. Order efficiently, and don’t make them run back and forth a million times. Say please, say thank you. And for goodness sake, acknowledge their presence when they are at your table. There is nothing more cringe-inducing than introducing yourself to a table and no one even looks at you. Ever have those nightmares where you’re a ghost?

Handling incorrect orders and under/over/poorly cooked food: Tell us calmly and politely what you do not like about your food. We will offer you options and solutions. We will fix it as soon as we can, and I can assure we are super embarrassed about it. We are sorry we didn’t get it right the first time—but you still have to be nice

Paying your bill: Every business has their own rules about splitting checks. I won’t bore you with the many reasons why some businesses take a limited number of payments. (I will say, however, that those reasons are legitimate and are in place to make the overall experience better.) Please do not argue with your server about this; they didn’t make the rule and they are not in the position to change it for you. 

Tipping: The new minimum tip percentage is a hard 20-percent—and more if you feel the server went above and beyond to exceed your expectations. Even more if you feel burdened by money.

Bonus pro-tip: If you are dining using a gift certificate, or you were comped drinks and/or food, you should tip based on what the total bill should have been prior to discounts and comps. If this math proves challenging, your server will be DELIGHTED if you ask them to draw up a bill that you can properly calculate a tip for. Guests rarely know about this particular etiquette and we are thrilled when it happens. 

Stop writing bad reviews on the internet. Just stop it.

The best way to communicate feedback to a business is to do so directly. Don’t blast them on the internet; that’s the most uncool, lame move of all time and, frankly, it’s gotta go. Write the manager or owner an email. Be detailed, level-headed, and as constructive as possible. The best way to motivate change in a business is to communicate effectively. If you must take your voice to the internet (insert eye-roll here) please consider and reflect on the following:

  • Did I break a rule or go against the company policies of the business?
  • Did I actually have a bad experience, or am I just mad because I didn’t even get in?
  • Was the food actually bad or am I just picky and ordered the wrong thing for my tastes? 
  • Was the server actually “rude” or were they just busy, professional, and efficient?
  • What am I really doing here? Why am I so angry about chicken? Why do I feel the need to abuse my keyboard over this? Should I call my mother? (Yes. The answer is yes.)

Remember that those serving you are real people with lives of their own.

I can’t believe I even have to touch on this but some of the interactions I have had this year have truly battered my soul, so I gotta do it. Hosts, servers, runners, bussers, managers, owners, porters, cleaners, doormen, bouncers, dishwashers, prep cooks, chefs, line cooks, kitchen managers, bartenders, barbacks—we are all humans. Real! Live! Humans! We have families. We are trying to make it in the big bad world just like you. It’s time to start treating service staff as equals, and discarding the antiquated notion that someone who is serving you is somehow beneath you. For good.

The best hospitality workers chose the industry because hospitality runs in their blood. They want you to have a good experience, and they derive great joy from a happy guest. It is time, however, that we all stop expecting staff to sacrifice their own sense of self-worth to achieve success. (Especially in, you know, a global pandemic.)

Are you a hospitality worker with a 2020 horror story? I am building a collection! Send me your wildest moments: aliciaekeler@gmail.com