Stomach grumbling, I joined the scrum of disgruntled customers in the entryway of the restaurant. Some, like me, were there to pick up takeout orders, others were waiting for a table, but everyone was hungry and nerves were fraying fast. A pretty twentysomething hostess stood behind the lectern, looking more than a little overwhelmed. She was only an hour into her shift and the place was already sliding into chaos.
“Excuse me!” huffed a woman as she shoved her way through the crowd. “We’ve been sitting at our table for ten minutes and we haven’t even seen a waiter!” The woman gestured dramatically at a miserable group huddled at a nearby table and her voice rose for emphasis. “We’re starving!”
The hospitality business is anything but hospitable these days. Like a lot of other industries, restaurants are struggling to manage the new reality of a world whipped by Covid. Demand is surging; workers are in short supply. Restrictions and regulations are confusing in part because they seem to change faster than the weather.
The result is heightened stress, heated interactions, and a lot more fistfights. For any business that deals with the public, there seems to be no relief in sight. Flying nowadays means having a ringside seat to a hairpulling cage fight. And the Happiest Place on Earth, Disney World, is refereeing pitched battles over masks and shoving matches in lines.
Back at the restaurant, waiters were running as fast as Kenyans in the Boston Marathon. They raced from the bar to their tables to the kitchen, balancing trays of food and drinks. Back in the kitchen, a platoon of sweaty cooks were hovering over hot stoves, racing to complete orders. Everyone was hustling. The hostess looked at the angry woman pleadingly. “We’re working as fast as we can,” she said, her voice wavering with fatigue.
“I insist on talking to the manager,” the woman said stonily. “I have been a good customer here for years!”
Wide-eyed, the hostess looked at the woman. “I am the manager,” she said softly. “The manager you knew? Well, he quit last week. He said he couldn’t take it anymore.”
Weary as I was from a long day at work and a tedious wait for my order, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of anguish for the hostess, the frantic waiters, and the owner of the restaurant. If this angry woman calls herself a good customer, I thought, I wouldn’t want to meet a bad one.
Scenes like that are going to get more and more common in stores and restaurants, especially as we move into the stressful holiday season. Our world is still being rattled by the dreary aftershocks of the pandemic. Stores and restaurants are short-staffed. Many of the things that we desperately want and need – furniture, appliances, electronics, cars – are floating in a container ship somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
Hey, everyone, give businesses – especially small businesses – some latitude as they manage through this mess. And for those who can’t help but create some drama, I hope they don’t take their traveling act to FCG.