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Sunday, Apr 2, 2023

COVID-19 has made service industry jobs tougher. These Mercer students say Macon’s restaurants are no exception

Ocmulgee Brewpub is located at 484 Second Street in downtown Macon, Ga. Photo via Facebook
Ocmulgee Brewpub is located at 484 Second Street in downtown Macon, Ga. Photo via Facebook

The foundation of many cities across the world, the restaurant industry brings in billions of dollars a year. In 2020 alone, the National Restaurant Association predicted that the industry would make $899 billion. The impacts of COVID-19, however, have caused restaurants around the world to take devastating hits, greater than many other industries.

According to the National Restaurant Association, restaurant employment has decreased and $240 billion in sales have been lost. This isn’t just a national impact; the effects of COVID-19 have hit local restaurants right here in Macon.

In late 2020, downtown Macon restaurant Piedmont Brewery closed its dining room due to the growing number of COVID-19 cases. The restaurant has since reopened, but other restaurants in Macon have not been so lucky.

In late January, Stevi B’s located on Tom Hill Sr. Boulevard closed its doors for good.

Owner Ryan Tucker told The Telegraph that the COVID-19 economic climate made it difficult to stay open.

Many Mercer students who work at local restaurants are experiencing the volatile nature of the restaurant industry firsthand due to the pandemic.

Senior political science major Bryce Brandvold has worked at Ocmulgee Brewpub since November 2019. He said he sees a change in business.

“Since the pandemic started, it has been a lot more to-go business,” he said. “I would say my pay has suffered because of it because I’m compensated based off tips.”

Margaritas Mexican Grill is located at 1602 Montpelier Avenue in Mercer Village in Macon, Ga. Photo via Facebook

Since the first COVID-19 lockdown in Georgia during the early summer of 2020, many Macon restaurants have reopened their dining rooms. Opening doors to the public while the pandemic continues has heightened safety concerns for some employees.

“COVID makes working a lot tougher, especially since I am constantly talking with people and touching dishes used by hundreds of people a weekend,” said freshman Joshua Lymon, a server at Margaritas Mexican Grill in Mercer Village. “I am constantly washing my hands and taking other safety precautions when I am working.”

The job comes with other struggles: getting patrons to care about COVID-19.

On July 27, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert vetoed the emergency ordinance that required face masks in public. Georgia is also among the states with no federal mask mandate, further contributing to the dismissive nature of many of its residents. Brandvold said the apathy towards COVID-19 has made being in service an eye-opening experience.

“There wasn’t a lot of respect for the service industry to begin with, but now with the pandemic, we’re asking for something additional: for people to respect our health as well,”  he said. “We do everything we can to make sure our customers are taken care of, that’s our job pure and simple. This now includes making sure people are safe from the pandemic, and we ask that patrons try to make sure we’re safe from the pandemic too despite what they may believe about COVID.”

According to Google News, there have been over 14,000 COVID-19 cases in Macon-Bibb county alone. It is no surprise that student workers like Lymon fear job and health security.

“If someone catches COVID-19 at my job, it would be very likely that multiple people or even I might contract the disease,” Lymon said. “That not only threatens my job but also my health and the health of those around me.”

Branvold said despite the worries, restaurant workers still prioritize making sure customers are taken care of, and their health and safety are of utmost importance.

“We may not be the people that are in the hospital rooms or laboratories on the front lines, but we try to give people a sense of normalcy in these tough times, and that’s noble too,” he said.


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