Raising the Bar

 The masks are starting to come off in public spaces, the tables are getting pushed a little closer together, and a return to a sense of normalcy might just soon become our new normal. 

Few have gone unaffected by the pandemic, but it’s safe to say that the restaurant and service industry was particularly blindsided. From job loss to navigating ever-changing guidelines and regulations to managing objections and grievances, they’ve seen it all — and they’re still smiling. 

While we’re all eager to get out and socialize with friends again or pull up a stool at our favorite watering hole and share our ups and downs with the person on the other side of the bar, it seems no one is more ready than the servers and bartenders. But, there are a few things to know before you go. We talked with Caitie Key, front of house manager and bartender for Blue Dog Tavern, and she laid it all out for us. 

What was it like for you as COVID-19 restrictions were unfolding? 

At the very beginning, people were comparing restaurant workers to the band on The Titanic that was still playing as the ship was going down — and that’s exactly how I felt. They were kind of using us as the last bit of normality. It felt like we were tap dancing for the world until everything shut down. I can definitely say that I never thought there would be a time when we would all be closed. 

How did that affect you?

The hardest part, to be perfectly honest, was not seeing regulars and not seeing the people I was constantly connected with. I’m fully invested in so many people’s lives. Some of them don’t have family close by or anything to go home to, and we end up taking care of these people — and they end up taking care of us, too. They become a part of our family and we expect to see them and know what’s going on in their lives. And we let them in on our lives, too. 

What do you want people to know about your job? 

I wish people knew how enjoyable it is; that it’s not just a job. For me, the best part about bartending is being able to make people feel welcome and comfortable and happy. Though I was able to keep in contact with some regulars during shutdown, it has been absolutely fantastic in the last several months to see everyone again. It’s like a homecoming. 

What are your “Dos” for people visiting your establishment?

First, be mindful of others. Everyone is at a different comfortability point. Some people are getting a bit fast and loose — and while we love that enthusiasm, they may need to ease back in more slowly. Also, be conscious of your time. It’s wonderful to be back and we’re really happy to have you, but there are a lot of places that still have limited seating, and we want to be available to as many people as possible. And remember, every restaurant is a little bit different with their rules and regulations. Just being open and positive to the experience instead of combative is very appreciated. 

And the “Don’ts”?

Definitely resist the urge to talk politics. There are a lot of polarizing opinions right now and those can get amplified when you’ve been drinking. Also, know that the front door person has the hardest job: Having to enforce rules they didn’t make. So don’t put up a fight. And, please, don’t complain about how uncomfortable it is to wear a mask. Many of us are working 8-12 hour shifts in our masks, often doing manual labor, without complaints. We’re probably not going to be very sympathetic to your minor inconvenience. 

What else?

Servers and bartenders have been through the roller coaster of money. We’ve seen it come and seen it go; we’ve seen times when we weren’t sure we were going to go back and have jobs again. I believe that everyone who’s doing it right now — having weathered the last year and still come back for more — is doing it out of a genuine love for what they do. I think that’s pretty awesome. 

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