From the Frontlines: A Server Shares Her Experience Working at a Local Restaurant

It took a pandemic for y’all to tip?

[Editor’s Note: Our love for (and dependence on) restaurants has never been more apparent. Since the mandatory restrictions, hospitality folks are reinventing their models to continue offering Austinites access to food via takeout and curbside, or in some cases, temporarily shuttering the business entirely.

Here, Zelly Martin, a recent Chron intern, and current UT grad student and restaurant server, writes about her experience during the pandemic.]

“Would you like to add any gratuity?”

“Well, I’m picking it up, so no,” a woman told me as I took payment for her food over the phone and then prepared to run it out, in the rain, to her car, during a pandemic. I guess I still don’t deserve more than $2.13 per hour.

Most of you, I’m happy and grateful to report, are going out of your way to be kind and generous (did I just get Natalie Merchant stuck in your head?) to the people preparing and delivering your food. You’ve given me $10 on an order of wings, stuck a twenty in my tip jar, and asked me how I’m doing after I asked you, instead of just responding with your order.

For the first time in my near-decade in the service industry, people are thanking me for working. And it’s not that I deserve that thanks more (or less) than anyone else – but don’t we all deserve it? The people who are writing your news and providing you with new interesting recipes. The people who are delivering your food. The people who are preparing it. The people who are healing your family, especially. But also the people who are teaching your online yoga classes and prescribing antibiotics for your dog and working at your gas station.

Sometimes, if I’m being honest, serving makes me really dislike people. I often recall a woman asking me, incredulously, “What are you doing here?” during a conversation about pets in which I mentioned that cats need more protein because they have a shorter digestive tract than dogs (a fact I learned from my vet because my dog was eating cat poop, by the way, not necessarily a sign of my superior intelligence). “Well,” I told her, as tactfully as I could, “I’m getting my master’s degree at UT, but I have to pay the bills.” Because, of course, no smart person could serve or bartend just because.

I’ve had you, customers, tell me my most meaningful tattoo looks like I just got drunk and did something stupid. I’ve had you pinch my ass (and tell me to shove pizza up it, too). I’ve cleaned your shit off of bathroom walls. I’ve been your therapist; I’ve watched your kids.

Is it disheartening that it took a pandemic to stop all that behavior? When you’ve been at home for two weeks, and you see me behind a counter wearing gloves and a mask, giving you the first food you haven’t prepared yourself in 14 days, do I look different to you?

Whatever’s changed, I don’t wanna go back. Sure, I wanna go back to backyard parties with my friends, and reliable income (not just for food and health services people), and visiting my older relatives, and going out of town. But please, when this is over and you return to dining out, don’t go back to the way it was before. Picture me with my gloves and mask, genuinely asking how you are, grateful for your presence because you’re putting food on my table too, and give me the same kindness in return. The kindness you’re giving me now.

And, for the love of God, don’t start a #notallcustomers thing over this, because I know 98% of you are amazing (some of my closest friends – even my boyfriend – started out as my customers), and the rest of you probably know who you are.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

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More by Zelly Martin
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