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Opinion — I hope your fried rice was cold

My boyfriend and I were having dinner at our favorite Korean restaurant in Charlottesville the other weekend when we observed an unhappy customer become extremely angry at the staff.

This place has amazing food, and it was obvious that night, as the tables were packed and there were several people waiting to pick up to-go orders.

It’s good to see a restaurant getting so much business in this day and age, but it was obvious the place was severely understaffed. Two lone servers rushed from one end of the room to the other, taking orders and bussing tables while also helping to get to-go orders out of the window.

The line grew longer, and one man, visibly angered that his to-go order was taking so long, began to yell. He yelled at the chef, he yelled at the servers, bringing one to tears, and he made everyone around him miserable.

I’d like to believe that this kind of stuff doesn’t happen in our neck of the woods, but it absolutely does, and I know that because it wasn’t too long ago I got by waiting tables in the area. While some customers were amazing, others could be downright awful, and I fully believe the treatment of restaurant workers has only grown worse as the pandemic has dragged on.

If you are somebody who likes to yell and get angry in short-staffed restaurants, I can promise you that you are a large part of why restaurants are so short-staffed today.

We all know a major labor shortage in the food service industry has been going on now for months, and while some point to unemployment compensation as the main reason many did not return to work in restaurants after the government forced bars and eateries to temporarily close last year, I think a huge factor in this labor shortage is the treatment of food workers.

Food workers get screamed at by customers. Food workers, both men and women, get sexually harassed by customers. They get insulted, they get inappropriately touched, and all for $2.13 an hour plus tips.

And often, when people are disappointed not in their service but in the food, they opt not to tip their server as if it is their fault. That person goes home, often as a single parent to hungry children, after working in an understaffed environment and being treated like dirt, and they have no money in their pocket because it’s somehow their fault a burger came out medium instead of medium-well.

People love to tell servers that if they don’t like surviving off of tips, they should find a different job. Well guess what? They have.

While America needs to shift to paying waitstaff an hourly wage instead of expecting customers to foot the bill, until we make that shift, servers make pennies an hour unless customers are generous enough to tip.

If you walk into your favorite restaurant and notice it is taking longer to get your meal, be kind to your overworked server. You may soon be unable to eat inside any of your favorite restaurants, and it won’t be due to the coronavirus. It will be because the restaurant can’t stay open without any staff.

To the food workers who switched jobs during the pandemic, I don’t blame you. To the ones who stayed, I’m proud of you and appreciate what you do. And to that man at the Korean restaurant, I hope your kimchi fried rice was cold.

Alexa Massey is a staff reporter for The Kenbridge-Victoria Dispatch and Farmville Newsmedia LLC. Her email address is Alexa.Massey@KVDispatch.com.