Since mask restrictions for vaccinated people in New Mexico have been lifted, it feels as though a weight has been lifted off the shoulders of its inhabitants.
Though many people feel skeptical about how quickly the mandates changed and choose to leave their masks on, there is still a sense of optimism in the air. The day Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced masks would be lifted, I wondered how things would change for restaurants in Santa Fe.
In the morning, I walked into a coffee shop and saw that all of the employees still had their masks on. They said they had no intention of taking them off because there is no way to know if people who are not wearing masks have been vaccinated.
The apprehension of unexpectedly unmasked patrons is not the only struggle that servers are dealing with post-shutdown.
The service industry and its employees were unprepared for the resulting flood of customers caused by such a quick change in regulations. Tourism is in full swing in Santa Fe, and people are more than ready to be out again.
Unfortunately, the service industry is not.
Record unemployment rates have left restaurants with the same staff they had when the pandemic was at its worst and when many fewer people were being served. Within a couple of weeks, restaurants in Santa Fe went from quiet to fully booked, even on weekdays. If you do manage to get a last-minute reservation on a Friday night, you are one of the lucky ones.
As excited as everyone (me included) is to be in the process of getting back to normal, perhaps people are too excited.
Many fully vaccinated people, after being cautious and responsible, are finally able to dine at a restaurant comfortably for the first time in over a year. However, the expectations for their night out may not match up with reality.
Restaurants are doing incredible numbers with very little staff, and not getting the perfect night you have been dreaming about for over a year can feel more than a little disappointing.
In the five years I have been serving, this has been the most stressful time for me by far — and it is not just me. I have asked friends and other servers if they share this sentiment and they have all expressed that they are overwhelmed and that guests seem less patient than ever.
The pandemic deprived people of restaurant dining, which has led to an over-idealization of a night out, resulting in impatience with slow service (inevitable given the nationwide labor shortage).
However, I do not want to be too critical in my generalization of patrons, some of whom have been grateful to simply sit somewhere besides their porch for 21/2 hours. I see these customers and feel I can learn something from their patience and appreciation.
Just because things are returning to normal does not mean everything will be perfect. If it was not perfect before, it certainly will not be now.
At the moment, these customers are a gentle reminder that a lovely night may include good food and drink, but more often comes from the company you keep.