When you make little more than tips in a shift, it can be tough to support yourself. Then, add in COVID-19 restrictions that limit restaurant capacity and server hours, making a livable wage is profoundly difficult.
“With a server wage, we’re really not making anything other than tips, so when it’s really slow, we don’t have reliable income,” said Cal Milligan, a 26-year-old waitress at a brunch restaurant in Boulder, Colorado.
Milligan works at the restaurant twice a week, before she packs up her things and commutes to her second job as a dental assistant. Both roles are part-time and a far departure from the marine biology degree she pursued in college.
“I thought I was going to be on a boat somewhere, saving the sea turtles, using my degree, but nope. Here I am,” she said.
Most days, Milligan barely makes enough to cover her living expenses. There is rent, car payments, and groceries. On top of that, prices in Denver, where she lives, are not getting cheaper.
This is the life of a service industry worker. It is scrappy, difficult, and, given the current pandemic, unstable as they do more work for less pay.
“I feel like work-from-home people don’t understand that same risk and if they get sick, they get sick. It doesn’t really affect anything for them,” said Milligan of the health risks service industry workers face daily. “But for me, that would be two weeks without pay, which would be very significant.”
“This is extremely stressful,” added Lara Bigotti. “I mean, I would come home some days and just cry.”
Bigotti worked at a brewery until she was laid off in the spring and has been looking for work since. In late fall, she moved from Colorado to Virginia to live with her mom and cut back on costs, which effectively ended her unemployment benefits.
“I mean, I’m just trying to be as frugal as possible until I go into my next gig,” she said.
Bigotti’s hope is that come spring, she will have saved enough money to move back into a place of her own, but that depends on job availability.
Still, she remains hopeful and thankful.
“I am ok,” said Bigotti. “It was a rough year. Lots of ups and downs, but I’m just one of the lucky ones that has a family to fall back on when I’m struggling.”