COVID-19 has taken a toll on restaurants, destroying some, while leaving others dangling by a thread. Still licking their wounds, restaurants and their staff are now doing more than ever with fewer resources than ever, just to survive. They do it because they love to serve us.
Let’s love them back. An owner’s open letter to Charlottesville:
An Open Letter to Charlottesville’s Dining Community
In March of 2020, the restaurant industry we have known for much of our professional lives changed. COVID-19 delivered a blow that no one could have expected. Our lives were changed forever. Many restaurants shuttered their doors, some to never open again. Those who managed to remain open fought other battles – policy restrictions from state and local governments; guest apprehension; health advisories. We fought to hold together some semblance of our businesses we proudly created with our limited funds, blood, sweat and tears. The public was sympathetic and supportive. You ordered take-out, knowing many of us never had a take-out menu previously. You bought gift certificates, never sure if they would actually be redeemable on the other side of this. You helped many of us survive.
A number of times now we have thought COVID was in our rear view mirror only to be brought to the forefront by rising case numbers, an employee who tests positive, or a new restriction re-levied on us. Each time has felt to be another kick to the ground, wondering if we should try to stand again. For myself and many other restaurant owners, these small businesses represent our legacy. They are the means to feed our families, educate our children. In short, our means to build our lives. For me, it represents a lifelong dream to own my own business and be my own boss.
Personally speaking, the anxiety and stress of the unknown led to severe depression. Sleepless night after sleepless night wondering if the next unexpected twist will be the final nail in the coffin. Therapy and medication became the norm to find my baseline and the ability to get through each day. My fuse shortened and it became harder to find joy in the profession I once loved. I know I am not alone in this feeling. I know many of my peers who have experienced the same.
Guests are now returning – and we are happy for it – but not all of us have been ready. Staffing shortages have left us exhausted. Much of our previous staff moved on. Some remain on unemployment, concerned for their health and safety. Others found a new line of work. Hiring and retraining new staff has been difficult, as many have left the industry in this time. Re-acclimating to “business as usual” in a time that is still unusual has not been easy. Already emotionally and physically exhausted, the toll of guest expectations is now further weakening us. Complaints of slow or imperfect service have rolled in, and the gentle hand that guests seem to take a year ago is now being replaced by rudeness and impossible expectations by some.
I am saying all this in a plea to the dining community. Please understand what we have been through, and what we are trying to return to.
We know your martini took 15 minutes to get to you. The bartender is taking tables because the server no-showed tonight.
Your steak was medium instead of medium rare because we are training the dishwasher to work the grill.
Your server wasn’t as friendly because she is working an extra shift to cover her co-worker who is awaiting COVID results.
We love our city and we love our diners. We want to be here when this is all said and done. Take a moment to thank a restaurant employee for showing up to work. Tip them an extra few bucks. Bring your favorite restaurant employee a gift for Christmas. At the very least, be a bit patient with us as we look after you.
We are just as excited to have you back in our dining rooms as you are to be there.
– Restaurant Owner in Charlottesville