Philly food and drink scene

Philly restaurant workers talk coronavirus, layoffs, stimulus and safety

It’s been a scary time for folks in food service. Here are some of their stories.

A food delivery courier passes an outdoor dining room in Philly's Rittenhouse neighborhood

A food delivery courier passes an outdoor dining room in Philly's Rittenhouse neighborhood

Astha Kunda / for Billy Penn

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The coronavirus created mayhem for all kinds of people, but it hit the restaurant industry especially hard.

Restaurant and food service workers are some of the lowest-paid in the United States. And these jobs are often held by people who might not be accepted in other work environments because of class, education or race, noted Sarah Myers, a former bartender/server who was laid off in mid-March. Restaurants are “filled by undocumented people and queer people and people of color,” Myers said. “It’s a very broad spectrum of people.”

Many who depended on restaurants for their livelihood have faced financial instability over the past few months, and some were at risk of losing their homes. Outside resources did provide some help — Albert Shin ended up moving back in with his parents, and the federal stimulus check allowed Bradlee Lopez Martinez to pay off student loans. When it came to surviving on regular unemployment, some restaurant workers ended up earning significantly less than they used to, Myers pointed out, because they often made a good portion of their income via tips.

Now, as restaurants are hiring back limited staff for outdoor dining and inching toward the potential start of indoor service, workers are nervous about their safety. It’s a culture thing, said Jordan Deal, and employees are hoping for change.

“Moving forward, hopefully, it’s going to change the way…workers are treated,” Deal said, “and the infrastructure that is…built off of the labor a lot of us put in.”

Check out these stories in the video below.

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Workforce, Health