The Faces Behind Your Restaurants and Bars

A hospitality professional reflects on what happens when there are no more guests

Jillian Whitlow
Jillian Whitlow (Photo by Dimitri Staszewski)

We are the faces smiling back at you from behind the bar. The bar we wish was sufficient for the CDC-recommended six feet of social distance. Our hearts were made heavy by an order for "a Corona, hold the virus." We cried with everyone torn apart by the social obligation to flatten the curve, while still maintaining our will to survive on wages afforded to us only by our establishment's patronage. We are the orchestrators of community and experience at your favorite spaces for social gathering. We are hospitality professionals, and, in this COVID-19 world, our hearts are breaking.

Across the globe, bartenders, chefs, managers, dishwashers, service assistants, hosts, and servers are petrified, scrambling to arrange for supplemental income as governments and responsible business owners make the impossible decision to close the doors. A decision forced upon restaurants and bars in an effort to slow the spread of a virus our infrastructure is underprepared to support.

The devolution in Austin was rapid. Less than two weeks ago, we braced for the influx of guests from all over the world to enjoy SXSW, our city's largest source of income for industry professionals. In the days following the festival's cancellation, a fog of sanitizers and disinfectants descended upon us as we made liberal use in an attempt to lessen the risks associated with being in a public space. We considered every detail, from disinfecting common surfaces every 15 minutes to providing single use pens with your bill. It became quickly apparent that there was no limit to the precautions we'd need to take to protect our community from the spread of the virus.

A mere 10 days following cancellation of SXSW, Suerte, the East Austin restaurant I proudly lead with a team of incredible humans, joined dozens of other Austin industry leaders in closing our doors to the public in an effort to protect it. The outpouring of emotion was enormous and immediate. Our team expressed gratitude for the steps management took to not only protect them but also to find ways to care for us all in the long run. We cried with them as they expressed their fears and divulged their plans to donate plasma or list their cleaning services on Craigslist in an attempt to get by. We continue to lose sleep over an inability to answer their questions about when we will be back.

The hospitality community consists of individuals who thrive on their ability to create an escape for each of you, a space to enter where you are encouraged to leave your troubles at the door and enjoy the ride. A world in which we are encouraged to create space between us hurts immensely. But rest assured, when we find ourselves on the other side of this unprecedented event in human history, our hearts and doors will be open to you, and we cannot wait to see you again.

Jillian Whitlow is a freelance writer, a hospitality industry advocate, and the assistant general manager at Suerte.

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