Students Reflect on Reopening of Businesses Amidst Pandemic

Ashley Opina ® Staff Writer |

As the clock struck midnight on December 31 of 2020, many let out a sigh of relief and welcomed the new year with open arms. 

The start of a new year does not mean that the problems of the previous one will suddenly disappear, but many cling to hope that 2021 will be better than its predecessor.

Among those people are the ones that work at restaurants, as their industry has suffered in 2020 due to COVID-19.

Many of them were left with less scheduled hours, or even jobless, as restaurants across the nation were instructed to close their dine-in options in order to prevent the spread of the virus. 

As a result, some restaurants were forced into bankruptcy, and their employees cut their losses.

The restaurants that were lucky enough to get by were forced to reduce their staff and alter their work environment all together which affected everyone on their payroll.

Now, restaurants are back in business and their employees have much to say on the matter.

One in particular is Kitara Krueger, a senior at Minnesota State University, Mankato. 

Krueger works at The Tavern Grill located in Woodbury, Minn. as a front-of-house server.

“I couldn’t find a job for the life of me right when the restaurants first reopened back in June,” said Krueger. “I finally scored a job in August and have been there ever since.”

She was asked about her experience working in a restaurant during a pandemic, and her response was detailed.

“The Tavern Grill prides themselves on their so-called work cycle,” said Krueger. “They really grind it into their employees brains to work as a team.”

By this, Krueger meant that all employees are taught that they are responsible for a handful of tasks in order to keep everything running smoothly, such as delivering food and beverages to other servers’ tables rather than just their own.

“We have to present ourselves as polished casual dining,” said Krueger. “So when COVID-19 hit, they [the restaurant] immediately made sure that the team went above and beyond to follow FDA protocols.” 

According to Krueger, The Tavern Grill puts the safety of their guests and their employees first.

“We [as employees] are required to wear gloves and change them out consistently,” said Krueger. “We are also required to wear masks, wash our hands frequently, disinfect surfaces, and make sure that tables and guests are socially distanced.”

The Tavern Grill also installed around 10 FDA air purifiers in the front and back of the restaurant in all of their locations.

Krueger said that she feels a great deal of pride in working at a place that takes COVID-19 seriously.

The only downside was becoming unemployed when restaurants in the state were instructed to close.

“I filed for unemployment in March which didn’t feel right at only 21 years old,” said Krueger. “During the second shutdown, I didn’t file again due to tax reasons and just toughed it out.”

Krueger added that although it was a struggle for her, she was grateful that she only had herself to worry about.

“There are family members and friends that I know that have children, a mortgage, or a business to run that had more to worry about than I did,” Krueger said.

When asked how she felt about the reopening of restaurants, Krueger said, “I’m actually not that excited about it. I want everything to go back to normal just as much as the next person, but I really do think that some people are acting selfish.”

She said that she had witnessed many people in other restaurants disregarding the pandemic and she worried that another peak in COVID-19 cases would result from it.

Krueger also said that she agreed with the Minn. State Governor, Tim Walz, on shutting the state down to help ease the burden of healthcare workers, especially during the holidays and flu season.

“Just stay home and party with your quarantine crew,” was Kruegers advice.

In contrast, Cameryn White, a junior at MNSU, shared her opposite experience and differing opinion.

White is a server at Rounders, a sports bar and grill located just five minutes off campus.

“I’ve been working at Rounders since the summer of 2019,” said White. “I was hired as a server but I also did food runs and hosted from time to time.”

In the summer of 2020, White was promoted as a bartender.

“I would say I spend equal time serving and bartending at the moment,” said White.

She was also asked to share her experience working in a restaurant during a pandemic, but hers was not as good as Kruegers.

“Working during COVID-19 has not been fun,” said White. 

Unfortunately for White, a former coworker of hers tested positive for the virus. 

“We found this information out through a video posted on Facebook by that former employee,” said White. “This took place back in March last year when COVID-19 cases were first being heard of in Mankato.”

According to White, when news spread of a former employee of Rounders testing positive for COVID-19, the restaurant, along with the rest of the town, went into a frenzy.

“As soon as staff members, the manager, and the owner were notified, we shut the restaurant down,” said White.

The entire staff was encouraged to get tested for the virus, and those that made possible contact with the former employee that tested positive were required to quarantine themselves before returning to work.

Rounders also took the necessary precautions before opening back up by bringing in sanitizing equipment and implementing new rules in order to keep their guests and employees safe.

“Once we were able to open back up again, every employee had to wear a mask and practice social distancing,” said White.

White continued on to say that, “Even though everyone at Rounders reacted to the situation the best they could, the media still had a lot of negative things to say about us.”

When asked to elaborate, White said, “Any person who tested positive for COVID-19 immediately reported that they caught the virus from Rounders which gave us a bad reputation in town.”

White recalls even being afraid to tell people that she worked at Rounders because The Mankato Free Press and The Star Tribune published stories about COVID-19 being linked to her place of work.

“Following all the drama with the media came the closure of bars and restaurants which was hard on us,” said White. “Even after the closure ended and we opened back up, Rounders hasn’t been the same.”

The once popular and bustling bar has gone quiet, and sales have been down ever since.

“It’s only gotten worse since Governor Walz imposed stricter regulations,” said White. “I blame COVID-19 for all of it.”

Not only did Rounders take a hit, but White did as well.

“Less customers means less money for the business,” said White. “That means less hours and less tips for the workers like me.”

A decrease in White’s income means an increase in her stress levels.

“I’m an aviation major and it’s not cheap,” said White. “It’s been hard for me to support my living and education costs.”

White, being an extravert, also enjoyed the social aspects of her job. Without it, her social outlets have decreased as well.

“Being stuck in the house with no job, income, or socialization has definitely had a negative effect on my well-being,” said White.

When asked how she felt about the reopening of restaurants, White was all for it.

White believes that the closure of restaurants hurts those that work in the industry more than it does by remaining open.

“There are many people who are employed in the restaurant business,” said White. “A lot of them are college kids who already face financial struggles even while working.”

She also believes that it should be left up to the individual to decide what’s best for them and their safety.

“Those that aren’t comfortable going to restaurants at this time can stay home,” said White. “The restaurant itself shouldn’t have to close its door.”

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