The people who work in the bar/restaurant industry are a rare breed. There is a sizable portion of our population — particularly in New Orleans — who make their living serving food and drinks to the rest of us. Most of them are wired in such a way that they don’t have much choice in the matter. The servers and bartenders and restaurant owners I’ve known couldn’t imagine doing anything else. The industry chose them.
It has always felt to me like a brutal industry, even before the pandemic. One of my best friends owns a restaurant and operates two others, so I’ve witnessed what it takes just to get the doors open. He’d have days when he couldn’t remember if he’d eaten, or if that was yesterday. Once the doors open, every customer walking in has a phone with a camera, social media accounts and opinions. If everything goes perfectly, the staff is slammed, stressed and exhausted. Between the staff and the customers, he has to handle every personality type imaginable and make them all feel important. And he loves it. Weirdo.
All of that stress and fun was in the pre-pandemic good old days. You all know what COVID-19 has done to the hospitality industry, but the people in it, who have been hit so hard, are still serving people. Mindy and I volunteered this week for Culture Aid NOLA, putting boxes of food together for anyone who needs it. That’s a lot of people these days, so it was four hours of intense work. Most of the people working with us were laid-off hospitality workers. (Many of them pulled a double shift and helped distribute the boxes when we were done.) I was at one station, filling and stacking boxes with a bartender at the Fillmore. Music venue. Brutal. She was told to expect to be back in 2021. Yet there she was, with a bunch of other wonderful weirdos, helping people.
Which brings us to our Phase One present. Here in the Bywater there were a handful of restaurants that stayed open for takeout — The Joint, Bywater Bakery, Rosalita’s Backyard Tacos, Frady’s, Now the next wave is opening. Bratz Y’all and Pizza Delicious recently reopened. Bacchanal has started doing curbside pickup. (You need to order food with your beer or wine, but I think a bag of Zapp’s qualifies.) N7 is hoping to open in June.
That’s where we come in. Whether you take your food home or dine in, be kind to the people serving you in every way. Take all of the precautions you can to help them stay healthy. Understand if there are some hiccups with your order. When given the opportunity, engage in some real conversation and let the staff know you care. And I know this pandemic has exacted a financial toll on all of us, but tip. Tip heavy, tip early, and tip often. Since we’ve been spending so much time at home, it’s easy for our focus to get stuck inward. Turn it out, let’s all let our lights shine for each other.
One of the things I love the most about New Orleans is knowing I probably don’t even have to remind you all to do that.