I grew up in a restaurant. The logo from Mama Ferrara’s is tattooed on my leg. I’ve heard my whole life how great my father’s pizza was. My favorite memories as a kid were spent in that building. My favorite foods were first fed to me there. I learned to roll silverware, knead dough, and answer phones at a young age. I inherited my Pop’s love of food and Ma’s love of people. And with that I have continued to stay in the Food & Beverage industry my whole life, over 40 years now. In all that time, I have never encountered the obstacles or defeats my beloved industry faces right now. And I beg of you all for mercy, compassion, and kindness.

Now, before you criticize my job choice, or doubt the importance of the hospitality industry, let me preface this with a few points.

  1. While in college, I did the math. My student loans were reaching over $75,000 before interest for a $50,000 annual salary. However, years of experience without a secondary education i.e. crippling student debt, gained me a base salary of $40,000 as a restaurant professional. I quickly realized as much as I loved journalism school, it was a terrible investment.
  2. Do not discount my industry’s importance. We are based out of the Culinary Arts. Our history tells your history. From feasts thrown by kings and queens to the birth of Soul food in the South. From Jesus’s Last Supper to that place your grandma always took you to after church on Sunday. I’ve watched first dates grow to baby’s first birthday and on. I’ve comforted a teenager whose parents had just told him they were divorcing and helped a woman escape out the back door while on a date that took a dangerous turn. I’ve fed first responders and raised money for the American Heart Association. I’ve worked dozens of charity events and written out hundreds of gift certificates for fundraisers. The restaurant and bar businesses are an integral part of our culture and our communities. And now these businesses are in the most dire of straights.

Recently, the most reputable, established and highly acclaimed places have closed their doors. Small businesses with little capital are making huge purchases and racking up debt to adapt and overcome these strange times. The owners are tied in bureaucratic tape, figuring out grants, loans, city and state regulations, new health department policies. The staff is working out in the elements, through heat, humidity, and thunderstorms. Their feet are killing them because they’re running on concrete all day. Their skin is cracking and bleeding from strong chemicals and sanitizers. Every shift is a gamble and several do not have health insurance. They are tired, hot, and scared.

Please be compassionate and understanding. Do not scoff when staff is enforcing rules they are required to follow. Wear your mask. Keep your hands washed and sanitized. Contact tracing is not “the man” spying on you. You have a social security number and a smart phone, the man already knows plenty about you. Yes, prices are going up and your favorite menu item isn’t available right now. Foodstuffs are in high demand and costs are skyrocketing. But I assure you, they are doing their best.

My industry is working harder than ever. Bars and restaurants are doing everything they can to stay afloat and maintain safety. So again, I beg of you. Please keep your money local. Your favorite Mom and Pop’s are fighting to stay alive. Not just to pay their bills but so they can invest in our community and be that place where you went on your first date, where you swear is the best taco in town, where your family always goes on Christmas Eve. Please support us. But please do safely. And kindly! Our future depends upon it.

Top image by Anna Longworth.