"If taking the vaccine means I can work in my restaurant again and not have to depend on an extension of unemployment benefits, sign me up."
Restaurant Employee Shoveling Snow
Credit: Getty Images

The restaurant industry just took another hit from the pandemic. On Monday of last week, indoor dining in New York City was officially taken off the table, leaving outdoor dining and takeout as the only option for restaurants and the people who work in them to make money. Snowstorms and plummeting temperatures means outdoor dining is pretty much off the (wobbly patio) table as well, so service workers must wait for things to get better. Now is indeed the winter of our discontent, but what is it that will make our industry glorious again by the summer? 

The FDA’s emergency use approval of the Pfizer vaccine and the upcoming Moderna vaccine could literally be the shot in the arm that restaurants need, but until this pandemic is under control, servers and bartenders are stuck between a rock and a hard place. We want restaurants to stay open so we can make money, but while we’re at work, we worry about our safety as we stand inches away from unmasked customers who are drinking craft cocktails, eating a Caprese flatbread and generally living their best lives. Meanwhile, we’re holding our breath every time we clear a dirty dish trying not to breathe in what they’re breathing out. Sure, those customers had their temperatures checked before being seated, but we don’t know if that’s enough. Besides, digital thermometers are notoriously fickle. I took a man’s temperature a couple of weeks ago and he registered at 78.4°F. I’m not a doctor or anything, but he didn’t seem dead to me, so I took him to Table 8 and went on with my night.

As we wait for the vaccine to trickle down to everyone who wants it, I wonder why those of us in the service industry aren’t higher up on the list of people to receive it. Of course healthcare workers and the residents and staff of nursing homes should be first, since they’re the most vulnerable. First responders make sense and teachers do too, but let me make a case for servers and bartenders to be vaccinated sooner rather than later. If we were deemed essential enough to keep working during a pandemic, it seems like we should be important enough to have the option of receiving the vaccine sooner than someone who has the option of working from home. After all, the restaurant industry has been the COVID-19 punching bag for months now, constantly under the watchful eye of officials and getting shut down in some capacity over and over again. All the while, the general public has demanded that restaurants stay open as if Taco Tuesday is a constitutional right that the founding fathers wrote about in 1787.

If taking the vaccine means I can work in my restaurant again and not have to depend on an extension of unemployment benefits, sign me up. You can stab me directly in the eyeball with a syringe made from a recycled New York Post and I’d happily take it. You can even televise it if it might encourage other servers to do the same. Let me be the face of the service industry who is ready to go back to work and make tips again. We servers have a knack for grumbling about our jobs, but now that so many of us don’t have them anymore, we miss them. The vaccine could let us go back to work which will help the economy and let us get back to doing the two things we servers do best: providing great hospitality to our customers and then complaining about providing great hospitality to our customers.

How many times can the restaurant industry keep getting knocked down before it just can’t get back up again? We’re like one of those blow up Bozo punching bag toys that had a sand base and always bounce back up after hitting it. Bozo had a big silly grin on his face and every time you knocked him down, he’d come right back up, ready for more. But eventually, he’d develop a slow leak and one morning you’d wake up to discover a deflated pile of plastic that’s still smiling at you.

The restaurant industry currently has a slow leak. We aren’t completely devoid of air yet, but we’re on our last gasps and it’s getting scary. Maybe that slow leak can be temporarily patched up with takeout orders and to-go cocktails, but it’s going to take more than that for us to rebound completely. We need our customers to keep supporting us and our government to help us financially and the vaccine might be the thing that can turn our industry around. We don’t want to be a Bozo punching bag, we want to be Weebles who wobble, but don’t fall down.