When restaurants reopened in June, I knew my job as a server in Santa Fe would look different, but I had no idea to what extent.
I anticipated all of the difficulties — the inconvenience of wearing a mask, the risk to my health and dealing with guests’ various misgivings, some of which were as bad as I imagined.
Suddenly, an inherently stressful job also became a paradox.
I was serving food in close contact while expected to social distance; washing my hands after taking dirty plates off tables while food was getting cold in the kitchen; trying to take orders at a distance but bumping into another table if I tried to stand 6 feet away.
We were being asked to perform a job that required close social interaction and speed, yet to also ensure socially distant health codes in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
With masks, service with a smile was no longer possible. The mask literalized how being a server can feel — faceless. My interactions became depersonalized as paranoia increased and social limitation was encouraged.
I cannot express how difficult it was to explain a dinner special in detail while wearing a mask and maintaining a safe distance. “Santa Fe nut brown ale” would get mistaken for “Our food is stale,” and I would find myself repeating what comes with the sea bass multiple times a night.
That said, the pandemic somehow revived authenticity and humanity in a dining experience.
I remember serving a guest who, while telling me her order over the summer, suddenly stopped midsentence to tell me it had been so long since she’d been at a restaurant that she was nervous to order.
Her words attested to the feeling of social anxiety that has become more common due to increased isolation.
Even before COVID-19, social anxiety was common in the service industry, but the universal isolation that everyone has experienced in this pandemic has allowed the conversation about social anxiety to become more acceptable.
With social anxiety on high, it is still human nature to desire interaction.
The pandemic made clear what was always true: We all rely on other people.
Despite this customer’s trepidation, she still came out to eat, which highlights what we all have felt at some point during quarantine — the desire to be around other people. Now more than ever, we value the time strangers take to make our day better.
I have had multiple guests tip much more than usual because they considered the difficult position servers are in. Many guests asked how the restaurant was doing, how I was doing. Though we servers felt faceless, COVID-19 also humanized us.
There is a newfound (and justly deserved) respect for essential workers.
Going forward, I hope this camaraderie and appreciation stays with us even after our common enemy, COVID-19, is vanquished. One thing I know for sure is that the phenomenon of being a server during the pandemic will undoubtedly stay with me.