COVID-19: Hourly Restaurant Workers Discuss Being Hit Hard by the Pandemic

Ten individuals share their personal experiences of losing their job during COVID-19. They talk about the difficulties applying for unemployment, their day-to-day lives without jobs, and the anxiety they felt when restaurants reopened for outdoor dining.

Three line cooks break down the kitchen for their last shift on March 15th, 2020.

Up until the COVID-19 pandemic, 15.6 million people worked at about one million restaurants in the United States, according to numbers from the National Restaurant Association. Now, four months after the pandemic initially hit, the economic devastation in the restaurant and hospitality industry is just coming into focus.

Restaurants in the U.S. have lost nearly three times more jobs than any other industry since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, according to recent findings from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

More than 5.5 million food service workers are still currently unemployed according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics’ monthly report. According to a report from the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia, 79,000 people worked in Philadelphia restaurants before the coronavirus shut everything down.

Ten individuals who work in Philadelphia’s restaurant industry discuss their experiences being laid-off or furloughed due to COVID-19 and how they’ve managed to cope.

Avery Martin-Chadwick, 26

Avery Martin-Chadwick, 26, was working as a barista and food runner in Rittenhouse Square as COVID-19 spread. He has since returned to the cafe and is helping with take-out orders. 

Avery Martin-Chadwick had been working at a popular restaurant in Rittenhouse that was a cafe by day and full-service dinner spot by night. As reports about the severity of COVID-19 started to appear in March, management attempted to stay ahead of the virus and create basic procedures, unaware, like the rest of the country, how serious the virus was going to be. 

“We were encouraged to wash our hands a lot and given the option to wear gloves,” Martin-Chadwick said. “I felt safe, but did not feel protected. I felt safe because of how young I am and how I have reacted to infections previous to this.”

On March 16, all restaurants were instructed to close their doors as Philadelphia and the rest of Pennsylvania began to comply with Gov. Wolf’s stay-at-home order. Most restaurants scrambled to give staff the proper notice, whether that meant firing or furloughing employees.

“Everyone was informed we would be shutting down and we were all laid-off with the expressed intention that we would all have the opportunity to have our jobs back,” Martin-Chadwick said. “That still has not happened.”

Several former restaurant employees have struggled to receive unemployment as applications have surged, and Martin-Chadwick was one of the unlucky ones. Despite receiving a detailed email from his employer outlining how to file for unemployment and a sense of urgency that he do so quickly, he has only received one unemployment check since March.

“I started a part-time job to supplement my income,” he said. “I have not continued to receive much support in terms of unemployment. I believe that is because the system is overloaded with claims. Nonetheless, it is extremely frustrating to be left waiting.”

Since the cafe Martin-Chadwick worked at is still able to function for take-out orders, it is able to employ a few people. Martin-Chadwick is one of them. Even with the hours at the cafe and another part-time job, he struggles to work 30 hours a week.

“My hourly rate is 25% lower than it was before COVID,” Chadwick said.

Aside from the lost income, former restaurant employees also have more time on their hands than ever before. The job often requires a nonstop pace and takes up a significant amount of a person’s time. COVID-19 has freed up so much of that time, and some are wondering what to do.

“It has been an up and down experience,” Chadwick said. “It started off pretty rough. I had a hard time finding ways to stay occupied. After a while, I got into a rhythm and found ways to stay productive. I would leave town for hikes, go on weekly bike rides, and take walks with a friend. I quickly started looking for work.”

Allison S., 28

Allison S., 28, was working at a fine dining restaurant in Rittenhouse Square when it was forced to shut down due to COVID-19.  She is still currently collecting unemployment.

Allison S. didn’t want to share her last name for fear of retribution in the local restaurant industry. Allison has worked for the same restaurant for the past five years; a dark, intimate fine dining establishment. There since the day it opened, she has seen the business go through significant changes. COVID-19 was new territory. 

“It was a really quick turnaround from ‘business as usual’ to ‘this is a pandemic we’re dealing with, and we’re taking it day-by-day,’” she said. “I remember I had two days off in a row, midweek, and it was almost surreal coming back to a new world of disposable menus and spaced apart tables.” 

It felt like a matter of time before everything would stop.

“Every shift seemed to be waiting for the word that what we were doing was no longer socially responsible or feasible,” Allison said.

Allison was aware of the fact that the owner of the restaurant company was coming in more frequently, seeming to prepare for the inevitable.

“I left one night intending to come back to work the next, and woke up to a message saying that we were closed for the foreseeable future,” she said. “It was short, sweet, and had very little information.”

She hasn’t been back since that shift.

“My work shoes and uniform are still in the back hallway where we change before shift,” Allison said.

Allison was technically furloughed but there was little promise that Allison would have a job to return to.

“There was no specific mention given that our jobs would be secure if the restaurant reopened,” she said. “There was mention of a fund to supplement our income before unemployment kicked in, but no information as to how it would be divvied up or who would be eligible.”

Despite receiving unemployment benefits after waiting only a few days, when her restaurant was in the process of obtaining a small-business loan, Allison felt pressured to get off unemployment.

“The original deal on the table was $20-an-hour for 40 hours a week, regardless of whether or not I came in,” she said. “For personal reasons, I initially meant to decline the offer and stay on unemployment. But when I talked to my manager, I felt pressured into accepting. They made it sound like I was at risk of losing my unemployment benefits if I refused.”

The business received the loan, but as the loan’s eight week term came to a close, she was directed to re-enroll in unemployment.

Allison had a unique situation. She was first furlonged, then offered to come back to work until the eight week business loan ran out and now has been told to re-enroll for unemployment. Due to all the back and forth, Allison is still waiting to get back on unemployment.

 She is trying to stay busy.

“At the outset you make all these plans to pick up a language on Duolingo, make a dent in your reading list, maybe download one of those apps and teach yourself an instrument, she said. “But it’s hard to keep that momentum going with so much uncertainty.”

The uncertainty has persisted, souring Allison’s relationship with her former employer.

“One week your restaurant’s reopening for outdoor dining. The next, it’s been pushed back two weeks,” she said. “You want to distance yourself enough to make sure you’re mentally prepared to survive on lockdown however long it takes but engaged enough to know when cogs start whirring once more.”

Allison can understand the general confusion around COVID-19, but her former managers’ communication habits have not helped.

“It’s a task made all the more difficult when your higher-ups are giving you radio silence,” she said. “Not even an update message to say, ‘Hey, no news on our front but hope you guys are okay.’ The most frustrating thing through all of this is the lack of communication. The constant guessing.” 

Allison doesn’t know if she will return to work in restaurants when they open up again.

“I don’t know if I’ve given up on the industry as a whole,” she said. “But I’m definitely doubting my restaurant group.”

Erin Miller, 34

Erin Miller, 34, an expeditor and server, was working in a fine dining restaurant when COVID-19 forced a city-wide shutdown. Miller has since relocated to a more casual location where her interactions with customers are limited.

Erin Miller was also working at a fine dining restaurant in Rittenhouse when COVID-19 started to become a major concern.

“I had a four day weekend leading up to shutdown, so I was not present in the restaurant for any changes made in those four days,” she said, via email. “Because the information about the virus was changing so quickly each day, because the level of the threat was so uncertain and unmeasurable, I was mildly concerned about whether or not we were taking proper/enough precautions in the restaurant.”

It became clear to Miller the virus was a serious matter when she noticed reservations were being canceled at a rapid pace. 

“People were suddenly spooked and staying indoors,” Miller said. “The local population’s response playing out before our eyes, before the City responded with shutdown [orders], was very concerning.”

As Philadelphia shut down, Miller felt her employers were quick to help her with unemployment, providing instructions for navigating the system efficiently. She started receiving benefits shortly after being laid-off. 

“I’ve heard that the reason some people did not receive compensation was that they filed under the wrong company name,” she said. “For example, we were instructed to file under our restaurant’s name and not the company name. I heard that this mistake is what slowed down the process.”

As a seasoned restaurant veteran, Miller felt a bit strange when she had a significant amount of time on her hands for the first time in years.

“At the beginning of quarantine, I was cooking and cleaning a lot,” she said. “That lasted for the first week or two.” 

At the beginning of the quarantine, Miller found it important to be productive and use the time to improve herself. 

“I then looked at the situation as a period in my life to take advantage of as if it was a temporary retirement and that I should relax and enjoy and not worry,” she said. “It was out of my hands and I just need to comply and be patient.”

Miller soon realized she, like many others, was dealing with a trauma not many knew how to address, especially since the pandemic was something most generations had never been through.

“I was grieving the loss of a job I loved and was very depressed about that major change in life, but I was trying to focus on resting and taking care of myself,” she said. “I’ve lost a few family members and had a traumatic experience with a very mentally ill loved one during quarantine that has made it nearly impossible to stay positive. It’s been so many huge, sudden changes in such a short period of time.”

Three-and-a-half months after losing her restaurant job, Miller started a new one. She made sure to establish boundaries for herself, deciding what tasks she was comfortable with before returning to work. She currently works as an expeditor where she stays inside while all the guests stay outdoors.

“I made it clear to management that I do not want to serve,” Miller said. “There are two reasons why. At this point, I do not have the emotional strength it takes to wait tables. I cannot handle that stress right now. And secondly, I do not want the exposure that comes with coming into contact with the guests.”

Justin Kerber, 32

Justin Kerber, 32, was working as a sous chef in Queens Village when COVID-19 forced Philadelphia to shut down. Kerber has since been unemployed and has used this time to start taking classes at Community College of Philadelphia (CCP).

Justin Kerber has been working in kitchens for several years and was employed as a sous chef when COVID-19 hit Philadelphia. As one of the chefs, Kerber felt responsible for attempting to institute safety protocols in the kitchen.

“Our restaurant did not implement many safety procedures for staff or guests,” he said. “That’s not to say that we didn’t feel safe. It was explicitly stated to us that if we were concerned for our health, we could take as many days off as needed without repercussions. I believe us doing this was more than most restaurants were doing.”

As COVID-19 began to spread, Kerber watched reservations plummet. The restaurant was suddenly averaging about 50 guests on the weekends where it was more accustomed to 150 guests per night. When March 16 arrived, Kerber was furloughed like many restaurant staff.

“Employees were given official notice by mail that we would be furloughed until further notice and to apply for unemployment compensation,” he said. “Of course the letters we received made no promises of having a job when the restaurant reopened. However, that goal was implied. My employer did agree to continue paying our healthcare premiums through the month of April.” 

Kerber was directed to a hotline to assist workers with the Pennsylvania unemployment website. He navigated the website easily and was able to obtain his benefits quickly. 

“I have heard many anecdotes from friends about the length of time to start receiving benefits, he said. “But, for me personally, my benefits started right away and I took home significantly more money on unemployment than from work.”

Kerber has been unapologetic about enjoying his time off. 

“Deep down, not gonna lie, this has been the best four months of my life,” he said. “I have, like everyone, spent most time at home watching tons of shows, playing video games, and trying not to go out unless I have to. I’m also seeing family more often—I know I shouldn’t be, don’t judge please—and joined the marches to combat police brutality and racial injustice.”

Kerber has been using this time to also reflect on what returning to the industry would be like and whether or not this unstable job is worth risking his life for. He has decided to apply to college. 

“I’ve taken it to the point where I applied to CCP to see if I can do some kind of track to get a real degree through online courses,” Kerber said. “I figured now is as good a time as any. I don’t think I strongly miss anything about working in the industry. The stress of the day-to-day grind is something I will perpetually be trying to avoid.”

Felicia Lawrence, 26

Felicia Lawrence, 26, was splitting her time as a food runner and server at a cafe and fine dining establishment when she was furloughed from both jobs. She is currently unable to return, since she is helping her older family members during COVID-19.

Felicia Lawrence was working 50-hour weeks, splitting time between two restaurants owned by the same restaurant group, while simultaneously pursuing a career in fitness when COVID-19 began to spread in Philadelphia.

In the shifts leading up to the shutdown, Lawrence described the situation at both of the restaurants she worked in as a healthy and responsible environment.

“My concerns were being heard,” she said. “Managers asked daily, during line-up, if there was anything we needed or had noticed or would make us feel more comfortable.”

Though management was concerned, customers were a different story. 

“However, in spite of their best efforts, I did not necessarily feel safe due to the fact that we were still dealing with the public,” Lawrence said. “Either the panic they were feeling, or the lack of care they had for the situation at hand.”

When March 16 came, Lawrence received a termination letter and was unsure if she would ever be returning to either restaurant. 

Lawrence had no issues receiving unemployment but misses the comradery that came with working in restaurants. 

“I have some wonderful coworkers who wanted to make sure that everyone was taken care of,” she said. “At both of my jobs, group chats were created in order for us to be able to ask one another questions and navigate this together.”

Lawrence is pursuing a career in fitness modeling. The time off has been something that she has used to her advantage.

“I have been occupying my time with hobbies that I honestly used to say I was too busy for,” she said. “I’ve been dabbling in my modeling and photography a lot more, working on my skincare and general self care a lot, and I have also had time to really take care of my body by working out, doing yoga, and my sleep schedule, which has actually become more normal since I was laid off.”

Since Lawrence has a commitment to fitness, it’s difficult for her to keep letting the restaurant world wear her body down. She was already considering cutting back on her hours before COVID-19. 

“I had noticed that my body was really feeling the effects of constantly working in restaurants and not allowing myself down time,” she said. “All of this time off has helped me realize that while I love this industry, it may not be the best one for me in the long run.”

Lawrence was asked to return to one of her restaurant jobs when her former employer received a Paycheck Protection Program loan. She declined.

“I have family very close by and I have been driving to give them a hand whenever they need it,” Lawrence said. “I was not willing to put my 75-year-old aunt, my cousin, and her two kids all at risk. So instead I chose to remain on unemployment and continue to be as safe as possible.”

Sara Klein, 24

Sara Klein, 24, has been working as an assistant manager since the spread of COVID-19, only with a short lapse of employment. Klein has been assisting former employees of the restaurant with navigating unemployment.

Sara Klein has been working for the same restaurant for two-and-a-half years. She was working as an assistant general manager for a popular fast casual spot when COVID-19 began to spread.

Klein’s experience was unique, since she wasn’t having to adjust procedures in the same way as sit-down restaurants. Klein said the cautionary steps her restaurant took changed on an hourly basis.

“We were allowing fewer and fewer guest interactions and taking away self-service options in the restaurants a few at a time until it was all basically kept behind the counter so no one could touch anything,” Klein said. “Our [general manager] would check in to make sure everyone was okay, and anyone who was even remotely uncomfortable was allowed to stay home.”

As business started to slow significantly, Klein was anticipating a shutdown, fearful of what unemployment would be like and the procedure for getting benefits.

“This was super scary because I had, thankfully, never been on unemployment before,” she said. “But I’ve never known so little about what the hell was going on around me.” 

Since her restaurant decided to close before the required shutdown, it was easier for Klein and other staff to obtain benefits, avoiding the administrative gridlock that left others waiting for checks.

Klein was furloughed, but since she was in a management position she had to assist the staff with getting their benefits in order. The general manager of the restaurant took the lead, making sure to get necessary information out to the staff as quickly as possible, which helped many expedite the filing process. Klein received benefits quickly, but others in the company didn’t receive a response until June.

“My GM was on the line almost daily with the unemployment office, trying to get it worked out for those few who were left without any kind of information,” Klein said.

Klein’s experience of being unemployed is similar to many restaurant workers—so much free time that it feels abnormal.

“I definitely enjoyed not being responsible for things in the workplace while I was unemployed,” she said. “I personally wish I had been more motivated. But given that there was nowhere to go, I don’t exactly hate that I didn’t accomplish anything.”

Klein has spent a lot of time just with her partner. For the first six weeks of quarantine, they lived in a 250-square foot apartment, which she believes contributed to how little motivation she had.

“I’m sort of proud of us for still, to this day, not putting ourselves out in the public where we don’t need to be,” she said.

Klein has tried to support as many small businesses as she can, especially when considering where she orders takeout from. 

“When we did decide to order in, we’d make those decisions based on who was local to the city and who we believed would benefit the most from having people get takeout,” she said.

Klein contemplated a change in career almost every day, even before COVID-19. The virus hasn’t pushed her significantly in any new directions, though. Klein said the job is safe and a skill set she knows well, so a pandemic is not the right time to change direction.

“Maybe someday, when there’s a vaccine and cases go down, I could think about what I want to do with my life,” she said.

Klein was recently asked to come back to work, an offer she accepted. It has been strange for her but also healthy, she said.

“We’re working with just managers and a few hourly employees, and it’s so comforting to be surrounded by the people who really get it,” she said. “They really want to be a part of the team, and they all understand that this crisis is so much bigger than us. So it just feels like an incredibly supportive environment right now.”

Customers are a different story. 

“There are people that approach us at the door without a mask and ask that we remove the service charge from their bill,” Klein said. “These are the same people who don’t understand why they can’t come inside to sit and eat. I feel safe with my coworkers, management, and the company as a whole, but I’m afraid of our customers.”

Despite conscientious regulars, Klein is fearful a negligent customer might ignore safety guidelines and possibly spread the virus to the staff or other customers.

In her opinion, it’s wrong for the restaurant to have to be open, even at a limited capacity. She hopes for another shutdown.

“We basically have no choice,” Klein said. “Our current system does not allow us to be closed and still hope to reopen someday in the future. I absolutely think it’s wrong for the government to call us essential and then dip the f**k out.”

She wishes federal, state, and local governments were willing to do more to support and protect restaurant and service industry workers.

“I’m not at all trying to compare us to health care workers,” Klein said. “Except for the fact that it’s obvious the government does not care about a single one of us. That’s the great equalizer—we are all on our own.”

Max Drew, 24

Max Drew, 24, has been working for a sandwich shop in Queen Village during COVID-19. With the help of donations, the shop has been feeding healthcare workers throughout the pandemic.

Max Drew was working at a fast casual sandwich shop before COVID-19 approached. He is currently employed at the same establishment.

Things changed quickly as coronavirus spread. Drew was told by management that if the shop were going to close down, the staff would not be left to wonder about the future.

“There was a plan to pay us our normal hourly wages—without tips—for 40-hour weeks, regardless of how much we cleaned or helped out around the shop that given week,” Drew said.

The shop did eventually close, but for a very short period of time. Drew was back to work within a week and a half. The sandwich shop has also assisted with feeding healthcare workers over the past several months.

“There was a plan to receive donations that in turn sent food to hospital workers,” he said. “We all went in two or three times a week to help with that. I was never laid off or anything of that nature.”

The owner of the shop applied for and received a Payment Protection Program loan. 

Drew never had to “encounter the cavalcade of nightmares that is trying to receive unemployment in the midst of this pandemic,” he said.

The shop Drew works at doesn’t rely on sit-down dining and he feels very fortunate he hasn’t been subjected to outdoor dining service. 

“I feel for these servers of these restaurants that attract a ‘careless about the pandemic’ crowd,” he said. “Eating on hot pavement next to bike lanes and car exhausts provides none of the communal aspects of dining out. It really only provides the service aspect. It’s bizarre to see how many people need to be served.”

Evan L.

Evan L., 29, was a bartender splitting his time between two restaurants in the same company when COVID-19 shut down the city. Since being laid-off, Evan is considering a different career path.

Evan L. didn’t want to share his last name for fear of retribution in the local restaurant industry. He was a bartender at two restaurants when everything shut down.

Evan worked the last two days before the shutdown. He felt incredibly uneasy and at risk for his entire shift. As a bartender, Evan’s job was to handle things that have been in people’s hands and mouths. If he forgot to change his gloves after one exchange, he could easily contaminate several surfaces. He found this unnerving.

Sanitizing procedures were heavily enhanced the weeks before Evan’s restaurant closed.

“Gloves everywhere,” he said. “Washing hands, switching gloves frequently, and after every interaction with a guest. Sanitizing surfaces, installed hand sanitizers all over the place. Spaced out seating, etc. We even changed how the dishes were cleaned to eliminate spraying the dishes first, to reduce droplet spread.”

Evan’s bosses took the risk of infection seriously.

“I felt that management was taking all reasonable measures to minimize the chance of transmission,” Evan said. “But the nature of working in a restaurant is that you can only control things on your end, and a customer could come from anywhere and endanger everyone.”

One night, all the soap was stolen from the restroom and management was forced to go to Target to try and get more. Dishwasher soap was all that was left. People were on high alert and stress was high.

The following day, a coworker tested positive for COVID-19. Management closed the restaurants on March 16 and Evan received a formal letter from the company informing him he was laid-off and to file for unemployment benefits.

Evan was unlucky; he is still struggling to obtain his unemployment benefits. Confusion around exactly who to list as his employer has complicated his paperwork.

“I worked for two companies under the same restaurant group,” he said.

Furthermore, the IRS based Evan’s annual compensation on the final quarter of 2018, despite having worked at the restaurant since the early part of that year. This has limited the amount of compensation Evan is eligible for.

“It has been very confusing,” he said. “They do not have this information correct, which is infuriating. I did the work. You f**king taxed me.”

Evan said he has dutifully reported all of his income.

“Our company reports the vast majority of tips, like 90-95%,” he said. “So it wasn’t because my income was all cash and unreported. They sent me tax returns in the mail. They know how much I made, but I still have to wrestle with some dumbass system.”

After many emails back and forth and requests for fax confirmations from Evan, he discovered the unemployment office was sending his benefits to the wrong address. Evan is now owed for almost four months of benefits, including the additional $600 per week stipulated in the CARES Act. He is still waiting.

“I’ve been living off savings,” he said, via email. “I was planning/saving for a big month or two vacation for my birthday in April, so this is my vacation now. I basically threw my savings into cryptocurrencies when things crashed in March, which has offered a little bit of padding too.”

Evan has made a career out of bartending, working six or seven days each week, by choice. As someone always on the go and not taking much time for himself, being unemployed has been a big adjustment. It turns out he’s enjoying it.

“I have been much calmer,” Evan said. “Not having to take care of people and all that entails is wonderful for self care. I realized that I really enjoyed being a bartender and helping people have a good time but have now had time to evaluate the costs: costs on my body, on my sleep patterns, on relationships.”

Though Evan is feeling healthier than he has in a while, he understands the tradeoffs in choosing to bartend as a career.

“This was all by my choice, so I wouldn’t go back and change anything either,” he said. “And it was hella dope mostly. But hospitality by any means necessary has its costs, and there’s a lot of people who don’t get what goes into it and don’t care to be thankful.”

Evan was recently asked to return to work at one of the restaurants. He declined.

“The nature of the bartender/guest interaction is different and unlikely to be the same,” he said. “I suppose there’s some fear when I look at the people who are going out to eat. You can do everything you want to mitigate risk on the back-end, so your average restaurant worker is going to be much safer than an average guest. But the issue is that there’s zero ability to control what people are doing even five minutes before they walk in.” 

The possible risk of infection is too high for him to consider going back behind a bar.

“Maybe it’s just me, but having had many many tens of thousands of interactions with humans, I don’t trust an average group of diners to be responsible enough to ensure the health of the people serving them,” he said.

Athena D., 31

Athena D., was working as a bartender at a popular bar and music venue when she was laid-off due to COVID-19. She is still currently collecting unemployment at this time.

Athena D. also didn’t want to share her last name for fear of retribution in the local restaurant industry. She was working as a bartender at a bar that also functioned as a music venue when coronavirus became a real concern.

“My concerns weren’t clear, even to myself,” she said. “I was beginning to think we needed to close as a precaution. I felt very worried during my final shift. It seemed like my managers were just as worried. As a whole, we were all confused about the logistics of the virus.”

Her employers were discussing health precautions at the beginning of shifts. Those health precautions changed daily as the virus worsened.

When Athena’s employers did shut down the bar, the owners said it would most likely just be for two weeks. The words “laid off” weren’t being thrown around, yet. When the furloughs did come, Athena received a notice from her employer, “through a company-wide email that their intention was to re-hire everyone as soon as they are capable,” she said.

Though she did find the process confusing, Athena was able to receive unemployment benefits right away.

“I did not receive information or guidance from my employer specifically about unemployment,” she said. “I got most of my guidance from friends.”

People in the restaurant industry tend to overlook the trauma they are experiencing as a result of working in their profession during a pandemic, Athena said. There is also a guilt associated with not feeling overworked and busy.

“Realizing what it is like to not be sleep deprived and sore has been enlightening,” she said. “I spend a lot of my time worrying about the pandemic, so it feels weird to say that I have enjoyed my time. That being said, getting to spend extended time at home is enjoyable and rare. I feel like I finally have time to do things I never had time to do. Like cooking, spending time with my cats, knitting, and talking to my family members on the phone.”

Athena hasn’t been asked to return to work yet, since the establishment already has the limited staff members it needs to run the bar.

“I don’t think I’ll feel truly comfortable seeing restaurants open for indoor dining until there is a vaccine, or at least better testing and tracing,” she said. “I do not feel pressured by my employer to go back. The only pressure I feel comes from myself.”

Athena said she has internalized the demands of the industry, for better or worse.

“With restaurant work, job security feels connected to your eagerness to work,” she said. “I judge the pros and cons of returning everyday, and I am lucky and privileged enough to be able to stay home for the time being.”

Dyanna Betts, 31

Dyanna Betts, a bartender in Fishtown, shares her story of being let go from her job. She has since been able to focus on teaching yoga.

Dyanna Betts was working part-time at a bar and music venue in early March. As reports of coronavirus were becoming more prominent and infections started to appear in Philadelphia, she felt there was not much effort by her former employer put into keeping her and her coworkers safe.

“There were almost no procedures put into place,” she said. “We were given bottles of sanitizer and that was the extent of it. There was no effort made to reduce crowding or account for social distancing. I don’t think there was any useful effort made for anyone to feel safe before the closure.”

The venue Betts worked at closed on March 15, the day before the City-mandated shutdown. She was told she would be rehired once the business reopened.

When it came to unemployment, Betts did not receive much direction from her employer. Possibly because it seemed a bit obvious, she said, so it didn’t require further explanation.

Betts’ employer did set up a GoFundMe for the former employees. They were also told to seek non-traditional forms of monetary relief like bartender grants.

Since Betts was working part-time at the bar while also teaching yoga, she already had another source of income. Because of this, it has been an easier transition to a new routine.

“Beyond the obvious trauma of the pandemic, I have loved not being at work,” she said. “I have been doing yoga, making art, reading, and making food. This time has amplified the fact that bars and restaurants are not very enriching or fulfilling environments.”

As the bar started to reopen in a modified, scaled-down version, Betts was offered a job. She declined, feeling that it was an unsafe environment.

“Very few places in the country have the virus under control and I don’t believe Philadelphia is one of them,” Betts said. “Therefore, I don’t think it’s the right time for restaurants to be open. I didn’t feel much pressure to go back.”

Please email any questions or concerns about this story to:

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.