What It’s Like Working in Hospitality Right Now

No industry has been hit quite like the world of events and food service thanks to the coronavirus. We check in with some local pros to see how they’re dealing
Hospitality Industry Indianapolis

Working in the hospitality industry is hard. Add in a global pandemic, new health and safety protocols, shutdowns, mask mandates…and it can be overwhelming. Here are some stories and experiences from women in the hospitality industry that have been working through the pandemic. It’s a good reminder to be kind, leave generous tips, have patience, and wear a mask.

“There were a lot of things that came from working in the service industry during a pandemic that I wasn’t expecting, because how could anyone expect anything? I definitely wasn’t expecting to talk to adults about why we have rules and why they have to follow them, I thought that was pretty self-explanatory. I also wasn’t expecting a face mask to suddenly become a lot of people’s biggest problem. But I try to take special note of the nice people. For every jerk that wants to make things complicated, there’s a customer who is extra kind and understanding. I think I need to start talking about the kinder people more. They really deserve the recognition.” —Shellie Coffing

“As an event producer, it’s been challenging to reach out to our wedding couples and explain to them how after months, if not years, of planning that there are now new policies and procedures in place that will affect their big day. Yet so far, I’ve only experienced couples thanking us for putting their health and safety first. Change is hard. However, by working through these trials together we’ve been able to still create the memorable day they’ve been waiting for.” —Melissa Mattingly

“Daredevil Taproom in Speedway and the Daredevil Hall at Ironworks have both been open during shut down—offering carryout, delivery, and when allowed limited dine-in per Marion County’s mandates. It has been the utmost importance for us to protect ourselves, our staff, and our dedicated customers during this time in order to protect our business.

For the most part, we’ve had great interactions with our customers, many of them have been very generous to our staff who have had limited work and a variable experience with unemployment insurance. When we did reopen for dine-in, it was exclusively outside, but we did deal with some customers who were excited to be there but didn’t respect the anxiety of our staff at being open. Overall, that has been smoothed over. We have seen a great adoption in the local mask mandate but have seen a dip in sales compared to the prior month. We understand though, and we’ll keep moving forward. We have had some very generous customers including people who came in every week for pickup or ordered delivery.” —Cari Crowe

“I know we’ve had a very small handful of asshole customers about masks but I haven’t dealt with them personally. Most people tell me they are very comfortable coming to Flatwater. Things like, ‘This is the only place I will go,’ and, ‘This is my first time going to eat anywhere.’

By and large, people really like the fact that we wear masks constantly and require them for customers, they see it as Mike taking care of his employees.  Tips as a whole have been higher and most people are pretty grateful we are open. I also feel good about coming to work because of the rules they have in place. I do feel like they care about our safety as well as customers.” —Angie Haynes

“I think what bothers me most is that it doesn’t feel like a team effort anymore, more about what’s best for the company, who communicates very little anymore. Labor needs to be low so everyone is overworked while not given time off when people have been exposed if HR deems that it wasn’t exposed enough, because unfortunately I don’t have a career that I can work from home for. I found out I was exposed this past weekend in a close setting, and was told I’d hear back from HR. I’ll quarantine besides work, but in a company of 1800 associates can you imagine how many are either waiting on test results or just don’t say anything so we can continue to work? All while serving people in the meantime.” —Anonymous

“An older (white) woman came in and didn’t have a mask. We told her she had to have one and we offered her one for free. She scoffed and put it on under her nose, only to tear it off and throw it on the ground when she sat. I walked up to her with some water, wearing the Black Lives Matter mask that I wear every shift, and she said, ‘Wow, I see they let you wear whatever mask you want here. Can I wear a Trump mask?’ I said sure, and she said, ‘What about my rights?!’ Ma’am, not a single person is coming for your rights.” —Erica O’Neill

“I do makeup at a luxury retail location. Since reopening after the shutdown, we have major health and safety rules/rituals we have to follow with every client. We are basically unable to do our job at the moment as we are not able to put makeup on anyone or touch them.

Consistently, I have women come in with no mask (masks are required in our store and in Marion County) and come up to me expecting to sit down and get a full makeover. I politely have to ask them to put a mask on first, as it is required in our store. Most will comply, but a few resist or make a smart ass comment about how ridiculous it is. Then I have to explain to them [that] due to the current situation, we are currently unable to do makeup.

I had one lady roll her eyes and raise her voice at me; I again had to state it was policy. She hesitated and let out a sigh, and then proceeded to ask me when I will be able to do makeup again. Umm, when the pandemic isn’t a threat! I had another customer come up and ask if I could do her eyebrows. I had to explain again we weren’t allowed to do makeup due to the current situation. Her response (as her mask was under her chin), ‘Oh yeah, cause of that thing happening?’

I watch as customers pick up lipsticks and put them on their fingers to try on their lips during all of this, no sense of cleanliness. We obviously try to stop it before they do it, but can’t get to them all. It blows my mind how clueless people are about the current state of the world. It is our job as associates to tell any customer walking through the door without a mask that one is required. A lot of people threaten with ‘Well I won’t be shopping here.’ Sorry but I care more about my health than you shopping! I leave work exhausted from having to explain myself over and over about why we can’t do a service.” —Kelly Englert   

“One good thing that sticks out is since the beginning, we have a regular who orders or comes in at least once a week and always leaves a $20 tip on his $12-15 meal. It’s been overwhelmingly good, people have been so supportive and have been tipping really well.” —Chelsey Wetzel

“There was a day that a group came in and was moving tables together, they were furious with our servers for not letting them move the tables. Meanwhile, as we are trying to get them to sit six feet apart from other tables, another table starts berating the manager saying, ‘You’re not doing your part to stop this pandemic! These people can’t be doing this,’ as though no one is trying to stop them.” —Anonymous

“Like many people who make the leap of faith into the tip-based world of serving, you rely nervously every shift on good business and generosity to pay the bills. I have been serving in higher-end restaurants for several years and before COVID it was pretty consistent; you knew what to expect on which days and during each season. Post-COVID, however, it has been a complete coin toss. No business patterns at all other than dinner business being dead until around 7:00 p.m., if we do get busy at all.

The first month back, after the rioting calmed, the business we did have was generous most of the time. Then after the mask mandate for Marion County, it dropped off. It has been extremely sporadic and unpredictable ever since. You show up and just wait and hope. The worst part is knowing we have nothing to fall back on. Buffers previously in place are expiring, unemployment is expiring, and many places aren’t hiring with uncertainty still in the market. We get looked down on a lot when we discuss our financial worries because we should have chosen something else. The fact is, for many of us, we either got in this while we were going to college and haven’t been able to find a decent job after, or the money has just been too good to give up prior to all this.

Many of us spent quarantine taking classes and trying to get into something less volatile, but with the thousands of jobs posted many have paused hiring, and those that haven’t have become even more competitive. I was turned down for between 45-50 jobs over quarantine. I am still getting denial emails. So it is just hard with absolutely no certainty, no direction, no answers…we just have to show up every day and hope/pray it works out.” —Tabatha McCord

“In my experiences as of late, I have seen both the good and bad from guests dining with us. Some are lovely and are clearly concerned about their safety, as well as that of our staff. Many others aren’t. We have been berated for wearing masks. We have been scoffed at for taking everyone’s temperature at the door for entrance to our establishment. We have had teenage hosts made to feel highly uncomfortable by guests due to the extra precautions we are taking. We have even had guests tell us they had reason to be tested and decided to come dine with us prior to getting their COVID-19 results back, while berating us for wearing masks.

I was hopeful that people would be more understanding and want to take care of those around them but it quickly became clear that I shouldn’t have been. Most people are carrying on their lives as though nothing has changed and it is terrifying to have my job be serving these folks. It’s their choice to believe whatever they want and that’s okay, but endangering people in their line of duty shouldn’t be even a small part of this equation. It has been an incredibly difficult time for all of us in the industry. Hopefully each location has a tight-knit family to support them like myself and my staff have. Without them, I likely would have fallen apart.” —Kristin Gordy

“Shortly after we had to go to carryout-only, one of my parties handed me an envelope with three $100 bills inside and said, ‘You take such good care of me, it’s my turn to take care of you.’ I’ve had several guests give tips of $50 to $100 on checks of less than $20.” —Diane Eads-Wiggins

“Through all of the uncertainty and the daily, almost hourly, changes our industry faces, one overarching theme emerges for me: Our hospitality partners and teammates never waiver in their desire to serve our community and take care of people, no matter what we face.

I think it is evident that we are navigating through something that seems uncontrollable, and for a Type A like me, that is really difficult to handle. But then I see our team and our partners ALWAYS showing up for each other…hosting food drives for our associates, delivering food to our front line worker, and just wellness checking each other because we care, A LOT. And I can’t believe I am lucky to be surrounded by these people. I won’t lie, I cry almost daily and I don’t want to sugar coat—there are really, really tough days, but I try to think about these people every day. Every. Single. Day. And we need them all.” —Jennifer Hephner Hanna

“Working in any facet of the hospitality industry during COVID-19 really shows how we care for or care less about each other. Owning a retail business and working at bars has shown me when a customer really cares.

Whether it’s support by buying, sharing on social media, gratuity a bit higher, or checking in through messenger, it all shows kindness and care. On the other hand, when people don’t care? It really shows. It’s almost heightened. Not wearing a mask after walking past a giant sign that states, ‘Please wear a mask when not seated.’ Or on the flip side, seeing a server, sales associate, or bartender not wearing one (or under their nose) when there are full tables, bar, and space. I’ve had my fair share of ‘mask shaming’ or saying I’m being a ‘bit too much.’ In the end, what I do (as a worker or customer) shows how much I care. When you wear your mask, social distance, sanitize/wash your hands? It’s not only helping you staying safe. It’s helping others if you’re asymptomatic. Basically, we all just need to care a little bit more.” —Andi McCleary

Rachel Hickey is Indy Maven’s social media guru.

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