Amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, the need for essential businesses is at an all-time high. With this pressure for businesses to remain open, there is a call for employees to put themselves at risk and continue their work to help serve their communities. For me, this has proven to have its advantages and disadvantages.

As a so-called essential employee at the fast-food drive-in Sonic, where I’ve worked for more than a year, I’ve seen the drastic changes that restaurants and other businesses have experienced during the pandemic firsthand. It’s my first job, and I mainly work the “carhop” position — I’m the person who goes out to the cars and delivers orders, unfortunately not on roller skates — meaning I’m used to coming face to face with customers throughout the day.

Around the beginning of March, when the virus started to sweep across the U.S., I thought I had seen just about everything while working — from accidental $100 tips to couples fighting on the patio and customers running off with food. But nothing could have prepared me for what was going to happen in the coming months.

Once New Mexico’s stay-at-home order was issued and most businesses started to close — many restaurants took the biggest hit — I figured my job at Sonic was going to be affected. However, because Sonic is one of the few restaurants without an indoors dining area, it actually made business a whole lot busier. Now that people couldn’t go anywhere else to sit down and eat, Sonic seemingly became Santa Fe’s go-to spot. In March, I was averaging about 250 orders in just a six-hour shift.

Because of the virus, we’ve had to limit staffing, meaning I am often the only carhop. While my role is still very much the same, the demand is much higher and there are several new rules in place. For example, the company requires that we wear masks and latex gloves, as well as a deep cleaning of the location about every 30 minutes. Due to the large increase in customers, every minute of the shift is busy.

Despite the great amount of work that has to be done, the increase in business does have a perk: more tips! I’ve realized how much more generous people are during hard times, as I often bring home $200 in tips a day, which along with my regular wages could amount to around $30 to $40 an hour.

I’m glad people have started to better appreciate the hard work essential employees contribute to society. I similarly have become more grateful for the ones risking their lives to serve their communities. Although I might only be a simple server at a fast-food joint, I’m still at a higher risk than others of getting the virus. So, even though things are starting to get a little more relaxed, essential employees should still be recognized for their sacrifice.

Lincoln Byrd will be a senior in the fall

at Santa Fe High School. Contact him at

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