What it’s like to be a bartender in the midst of the COVID wave.


As states across the country take different measures (or none at all) to deal with the astronomical increase in COVID cases brought on by the Delta variant and too low vaccination rates, bars and restaurants are facing to a new series of unknown territories. The restrictions vary from vaccination requirements in New York to absolutely nothing at all in Miami. Bartenders now find themselves on the front lines against a whole host of contagious variations, often without clear direction from the state.

“There aren’t really many restrictions on customers [here], and employee restrictions are put in place by individual restaurants, ”said Ryan McCann, a bartender working in Boothbay, Maine, for the second summer in a row. Where he works, the mask is required for unvaccinated employees, for example. But without a statewide mandate requiring it, the same rules don’t really apply to clients. Maine currently has the third highest vaccination rate in the country and an average of just 105 cases per day, making the new restrictions less urgent than in places like Miami, where prominent bartender Daniele Dalla Pola co-owns ‘Esotico. Florida broke hospitalization and case records over the past week, and Miami-Dade County has the highest number of cases per capita in the state.

“I can’t force people to wear a mask now because … no one [brings] a mask when they enter the restaurant, ”said Dalla Pola. Instead, he had to follow creative paths to keep his employees safe as the state claims no restrictions and massive case rates. “We have asked all of our employees to get vaccinated. We offered money [as an incentive] to get vaccinated, ”he said. What if they don’t? ” [T]hey, wear a mask.

As the US pushes toward reopening, bartenders have also been their bars’ first line of defense against increasingly erratic (and even violent) patrons. “People are less nice and less patient. They were locked up for a year, and they came out with blazing guns, ”said Marcia Herold, who has been a bartender in New York’s upscale Tribeca neighborhood for over a decade. “But it’s not like, ‘Oh, we come out with respect for restaurant workers to do this.’ It’s more like, ‘I’ve been locked up for a year now, give me whatever I want.’ “

New York City became the first in the United States to require proof of vaccination so people can access indoor spaces like bars, restaurants and gyms. Bartender Jules Miranda is concerned that, along with increasing public unrest, the prescription could cause problems for service workers. “I want everyone to be vaccinated, but if I have a guest who shows up at the door and he tries to enter, I anticipate that a few people will give the catering workers a fit,” he said. she declared. “And that’s the part where it’s kinda unfair because like, we’re just doing our job, you know?” Don’t take it out on the messenger.

Even nice customers can be a problem. “You can have great people there, and they just forget and they get sloppy with us. They want to give you a hug, they want to touch you, ”said Zach Hunt, a New Orleans bartender. “And especially when you work in a place [like] Cheers “Where everyone knows your name” they want to give you a hug and you’re always like “I wanna punch your fist.” “”

Amid the added hardships of the job, however, many bartenders working in bars and restaurants during the pandemic find themselves with no other choice.

“I just needed the money to stay alive,” said Ojhonte Armstrong. A little more recent on the bar scene, Armstrong started working as a bar at a Boston bar and restaurant about five months ago. “As a student, I was surrounded by alcoholic drinks, so… I guess this barback job also kind of helps me deepen my knowledge of alcohol,” he said.

In Massachusetts, despite a recent and widely publicized outbreak in Provincetown, rates of COVID cases have remained low and more than 60% of the population is fully vaccinated. There, the interior spaces were able to remain open with less risk. “It’s definitely more normal. … Maybe a week after July 4th, people were like, “Oh my God, I’m so happy! And the bartenders say, “That’s life,” Armstrong said of the Boston reopening. “We’re coming back and they’re actually making more money now.”

In New Orleans, where hospitalization rates for COVID are the highest on record and ambulances are struggling to cope with the increase in 911 calls, the pandemic’s effect on the healthcare industry. services forced longtime bartender Zach Hunt to take a “break” from his eight-year stint working at an LGBTQ bar in town in order to stay afloat. When the pandemic hit, the bar was just emerging from a change of ownership, reopening and a booming Mardi Gras season. Then came the lockdowns and sanctions. “It basically just kills the momentum that’s going into it,” Hunt said. “When we were able to reopen, there was no business.”

Hunt worked full-time at the bar until the lack of patrons meant staying there just wasn’t an option, despite generous excessive tips and free meals from loyal bar patrons. When a dispute with the bar owner resulted in the bar being temporarily closed for the second time, Hunt decided to look for full-time contacts. He simultaneously landed a full-time job as a bartender in a restaurant, but had to give it up as well. “The money was not there. … Plus you feel a bit like a jerk because right now there are a lot of unemployed bartenders, ”he said. “So I took a step back and just said, ‘You have other people on the schedule who need to work full time, and I don’t need to.’ “

Despite the obvious setbacks, however, bars and restaurants seem ready to take the blows. “We started to put the mask back on [requirement]. If we are to go back to social distancing, we will [reduce capacity]. But I’m not going to stop the business because we have a family to take care of, we have rent we have to pay, ”said Dalla Pola, citing new restrictions that could stem from the dire COVID situation in Miami. .

What about states that are doing a little better with the pandemic, like New York? Herold put it this way: “I think what happened the first time around is what’s going to happen again. New York to take most proactive crash measures [the pandemic] that the rest of the country will eventually ignore, even though we’ve shown them how to do it.

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