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Quarantine Chronicles: an anonymous restaurant employee
THIS employee works in the front of house at a restaurant that opened for service as a result of Gov. Kemp’s order. They spoke with us on condition of anonymity, and identifying features have been omitted.

How do you feel being back at work right now?

I think personally, going into it, just from staying pretty up to date on the cases and how horrible the testing has been in Georgia, I was pretty terrified to go back. But I didn’t really have a choice, so it was a lot of anxiety. I was very anxious about it.

I also have a partner that has children, and the least amount of exposure to this house so that whoever he’s coparenting with can feel safe about their children coming into this situation—that was another big issue for me, and also for him. If anything ever happened to one of my partner’s children, or somebody got infected, or if I was asymptomatic and had passed it on to one of them that passed it on to someone, that was definitely something in my brain.

Once I went to work, and the way the owners have distanced everything, I was in an area where I really didn’t have to come into any sort of close distance. I didn’t run any food. The owners came up with a plan of no contact that was way better than anything I would have thought would happen.

But it’s still scary, the amount of people that were there. I still think about that. There were a lot of people there.

Were the people wearing any protective gear?

I would say almost none of them were wearing protective gear, but the whole staff was.

Do you feel like this is sustainable?

No. I feel like the government gave these businesses a loan and they have to use this money, and people are being forced to be open.

But on the other side, I don’t look at the numbers that the owners do. I don’t know what they’re losing by being closed in this prime season. But also, how prime is this season?

Our staff is about half what it would be. We did good, but I can’t help but think that we did good because all those people that missed us were throwing 40 to 50 percent tips at us on the first and second day we were open.

And that won’t continue to happen.

No. Those people are going to come next week and tip us normal, and we’re going to probably make half the money. We made great money, but I don’t think that’s going to keep happening.

Also, I don’t see these restaurants being able to sustain without some sort of rent drop. If you’re only operating at 30 to 40 percent capacity, it’s a little bit of money to help people get through right now. But if it has to stay that way for a long time, I don’t see that being sustainable.

Do you feel forced to be there? If you felt uncomfortable, could you leave?

I was very fortunate in the way that the business I work for was giving us a salary from the business loan, even as a tipped employee. That would have been, for most people, sustainable.

I have a lot more bills and things than I think most of the people there have. I know everybody’s got to pay rent, but I have a very expensive car payment, and I have very expensive student loans that I can’t defer anymore. I have things going on in my life that I have to pay for right now.

For me, I didn’t really have an option not to go back, but I am grateful that the company I work for was like, “You’re going to get this much a week.” So a lot of people that didn’t feel comfortable didn’t have to.

When they told us they were opening, they were very clear that we weren’t going to need as much staff, so if you didn’t feel comfortable, don’t feel like you’re being forced.

I’m sure that’s not the case with a lot of places.

They did say that if everybody on the staff was going to work, it would be dished out fairly, and the people who were part time before would get their shifts based on a part-time thing. The people who were full-time before would get maybe a little more priority and one extra shift.

Is there anybody else you work with that feels forced into working?

To be honest, everybody was in pretty good spirits. I haven’t really had much time to chat with any of the back of house people. I feel like they might be a little more forced into working because they have their salaries. But I’m sure if one of them didn’t feel comfortable, or was in a situation where they could have been like, “No, I don’t feel comfortable,” and then maybe just stayed off and collected their money a week.

Do you feel like your restaurant is taking all the correct safety protocol?

Yeah, I feel much safer than I thought I would be feeling. We’re allowed to open in a bigger capacity than we are, and we’re not doing that.

What else do you think people should know about your situation?

I don’t think people are really looking at statistics. I think the reason Georgians feel safer is because they’ve heard of all these horrible places, like San Francisco and New York hitting their peak and doing better, but those are places where people have had testing.

The other day, we were 47th in the country in terms of people being tested, and some of the places were still using testing that took ten days. That same day, we had 900 new cases with the testing being that horrible.

So it’s like, if you’re getting 900 new cases with horrible testing, if the testing were up to par, what the fuck are we actually dealing with?

I don’t think people should be hanging out together. Restaurants are condensed places. I get it—if you need to go outside, go to the park and be with your household or a few people you’ve been very close around, and just stay far away from other people

I don’t know. Maybe that’s not the answer, either. But I feel like going into very small, condensed places… I’ll get curbside takeout from somewhere and go the fuck home, but I’m not chilling at a restaurant with a bunch of people I don’t know.

The scarier thing for me is that you’re with a bunch of people you don’t know, but we live in Savannah. You’re going to see ten people you do know. And you’re not going to be able to be like, “Oh, wait, stand six feet away while we talk.”

Did people stay six feet apart at your restaurant?

No. People sat at tables with their groups, but there were parties with ten or 12 people and hanging out together, and that’s not what we’re supposed to be doing.

Did you feel like you got to stay far enough away from those people?

Yes, I feel like I did. There’s tape on the ground being like, “Do not pass this line.”

With the amount of sales and the amount of people, it’s still much less than what we’re used to, but it was still crowded and hard to avoid. If I was one of those patrons, I would’ve felt a little uncomfortable.

We’re allowed to have more than we had going on there, and I would just stay the fuck home for a few more weeks and see if these things spike. 900 new cases and being 47th in cases and then opening right after seems a little wacky to me, but I could be 100% wrong.

The next few weeks will show, and I hope that people actually stay home during those weeks to figure it out.