Jerilyn Jordan, music editor for the Detroit Metro Times, recently wrote an article citing a study by One Fair Wage about food servers’ experiences during the coronavirus pandemic. The title of the survey, Take Off Your Mask So I Know How Much to Tip You, ought to give you some idea about the nature of its findings.

The survey polled restaurant workers in five states, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania, plus Washington, D.C.. As restaurants slowly underwent a phased re-opening for indoor dining, servers were forced to wait on tables of unmasked guests who, according to the numbers, are tipping worse than ever, and finding new perverse ways to harass them.

83% of workers say their tips are down, two thirds of whom say by more than 50%.

41% reported a noticeable increase in sexual harassment, and more than 200 workers gave direct accounts of male customers saying things like “Pull that mask down so I can see if I want to take you home later.”

Additionally, 69% of workers reported that their employers were not consistently following COVID-19 safety protocols, and 78% experienced hostility from customers when they’ve take it upon themselves to do so. 67% reported being undertipped as a result of enforcing safety guidelines, and so 58% are afraid to do it. And so, not surprisingly, 10% of those surveyed said they were personally infected with Covid, and 44% said that a co-worker at their restaurant was infected.

Of course, tipped workers are currently paid a significantly lower minimum wage than non-tipped workers (in Michigan, it’s $3.67 per hour, and that’s relatively high compared to many other states). One Fair Wage proposes that, at a minimum, servers be paid the full state minimum hourly wage, with tips on top. This would, at the very least, decouple their earnings from their willingness to put up with the intolerable behavior they’re forced to experience on a daily basis; a small but necessary first step.

Jerilyn Jordan joined our podcast to discuss her reporting, a well as some proposed solutions to ensure the safety and economic security of food service workers over the course of what is sure to be an extraordinarily difficult winter. Listen to our full conversation by clicking in the player below:

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Photo: Serge Melki