French Fries and COVID Constraints

Students struggle while working in restaurants

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Maeby Aleo

Lily Wood ’23 busses a table at the Waterloo in downtown Louisville

Maeby Aleo, Staff Member

The roar of people drowns out the sound of country music and laughter at the Waterloo in downtown Louisville. Babies cry and patrons hoot and holler across the room. The smell of food is muffled through Lily Wood’s mask, but it still amplifies the smell of the hand sanitizer.

Working in a restaurant can be hard, demanding work. There is always something that can be done to benefit the proficiency of the restaurant. Especially during the pandemic, work can be completely different from the norm.

“I think that students who are working are at a higher risk when everyone comes in and takes their mask off when they eat,” Wood said, who works as a hostess at the popular, Texas-themed restaurant. “It’s definitely a higher risk than high schoolers who don’t have jobs right now.”

She finds that even when COVID restrictions are in place, she tries to see a positive side within them. “Right now, it’s been more of a structure with COVID,” she said. “It feels like something I can go to that’s the same every time, something that’s easy during the pandemic.”

Wood has only been working at the Waterloo since September, so she has never worked outside of the pandemic. She still runs into many challenges and other experiences that give her more perspective on restaurant working. 

“Dealing with customers who don’t want to follow the COVID rules can be frustrating,” she said. 

She also believes that working in a restaurant is important to give people perspective to know how to act properly at other restaurants in the future.

“It really helps with how you act towards other people,” Wood said. “I think at some point in your life, you’re going to go out to dinner and you’re going to be with someone, who maybe hasn’t worked in the restaurant industry, and something might go wrong, and they’re going to get really angry.”

Wood also gets to meet all different kinds of people every day. She specifically remembers little kids that brightened her day at work. 

“There was one time this little girl really liked these tiny pumpkins we had for our fall decorations. It made her really happy, so I let her keep one,” she said.

“This little boy came in, and he was wearing a blazer and he just seemed so smart,” Wood said. “He was probably like nine and he was so articulate when he talked and just so cute.”

Saga Osterman ‘23 works just across the street at the Switch-Up Pop-Up Concept Bar, also known as Miracle on Main Street. They change the theme of their restaurant about four times a year to keep the business fresh.

Osterman is in a managerial position at the restaurant, similar to the job of a maître-d. “I’ve been working at the Pop-Up Bar since November when it opened up,” she said. “But I’ve been working for the owner for a year now.”

She thinks that the business has been able to grow and thrive during the pandemic, even though they opened in the middle of it. “The Switch-Up Pop-Up Bar kind of became a thing because of the pandemic,” Osterman said. 

The pop-up bar was originally just supposed to be open for the holiday season, but they were so successful that they are now staying open year-round. 

“We had the option to keep being open. The way that we run it allows us to be open while still social-distancing,” she said. 

She finds that with this social distancing, there aren’t too many challenges other than more extensive sanitizing and cleaning. Sometimes, Osterman does face challenges when working.

“The hardest part is probably staying so motivated after long hours,” Osterman said. She has to keep up her spirit for whatever the theme of the pop-up bar is, like holiday spirit, or 80s spirit.

Osterman believes that working in a restaurant is important. “It helps you learn to respect people that work in the industry because it’s a really hard job,” she said. “I feel like it gives you a different point of view of how restaurants work.”

She finds many elements fun about her job. One memorable experience was back in December, the week before Christmas. 

“We were just jam-packed from 10 am to 8 pm,” Osterman said. “Everybody was happy, everybody was dancing, and it was a very fun experience.”