-Hannah Stump, PJC Intern

Everyone in the United States has been impacted in one way or another by the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. Small and large companies alike are working remotely. Densely populated cities such as San Francisco have ordered residents to “shelter-in-place”. We are all adapting to a new normal as social distancing has become imperative in slowing the spread of the virus. 

As more and more restrictions are put into place, the impact is devastating on the 15+ million Americans working in the restaurant industry and the 2+ million working in grocery stores. Many of our servers, bartenders, baristas, line cooks, dishwashers, and kitchen managers have been laid off or had their hours reduced dramatically as bars and restaurants have closed or shifted to take out/delivery only. Meanwhile, our cashiers, grocery stockers, deli service workers and product distributors/receivers are on the frontline, providing an essential service to their communities while also being most vulnerable to the virus. Additionally, not all service sector employees receive paid time off and healthcare, which makes staying healthy during a pandemic an especially daunting task.

The United States is home to approximately 1 million restaurants, and “more than 70% of these restaurants are small businesses that support their local communities.”(1) This means that a majority of the eateries affected by forced closures are not large corporations with money set aside to pay their employees during times of crisis. It means they are small businesses, owned by local people, employing local people who are now struggling to pay basic living expenses as they are suddenly out of work. There is also a great chance that some of the bars and restaurants won’t ever re-open. Many small businesses “run on a very thin margin” (2) and will struggle to pay off purchases they have already made without any money coming in. For our service sector employees, this is a stressful time. Filing for unemployment is nearly impossible; the Department of Labor receives thousands of phone calls and jobs are not guaranteed even after the pandemic ends.

The employees and owners of our favorite restaurants are sitting at home applying for unemployment insurance and determining which of their expenses, if any, they can postpone. At the same time, grocery store workers and food/beverage distributors are working days on end with little time off as the public continues to panic-buy toilet paper and frozen vegetables. “Food suppliers and retailers told The New York Times that while they’re struggling to keep up with demand, their supply chain remains strong” (3), meaning that their jobs are safe, but they aren’t safe. While people employed by grocery stores and distribution companies are more likely than their friends in the service industry to have healthcare, they are still being disproportionately exposed to the virus. They cross paths with hundreds, if not thousands, of people daily who may not wash their hands as vigilantly as service workers have been trained to do. 

We are all human beings, and we are all being affected in one way or another by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is truly a wild, scary, confusing, and unpredictable moment in history, and no two people are experiencing and feeling and projecting in the same ways. Please remember to be kind – especially to your bartender friend who just lost their job, or your grocery store cashier neighbor who has worked 6 days in a row, but also to everyone you come into contact with (virtually or from a safe, 6-foot distance). We need each other now more than ever. 

  1. Thousands of restaurant workers have already lost their jobs due to coronavirus
  2. As COVID-19 Crashes the Economy, Workers and Business Owners Wonder If Anything Can Save Them From Financial Ruin
  3. Coronavirus Panic Buying Puts Grocery Workers and Shoppers at Risk of Infection