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News analysis: Think differently while dining out during the pandemic 

click to enlarge When getting takeout, tip like you had excellent service at a sit-down restaurant. - JESSICA KUHN
  • Jessica Kuhn
  • When getting takeout, tip like you had excellent service at a sit-down restaurant.

Gov. Jared Polis’ decision on March 16 to close dining areas and bars in Colorado because of COVID-19 has changed the local food scene. Kitchens have been forced to either shift exclusively to takeout and delivery or close their doors. In the grand scheme of things, it’s one more way in which we must adapt to comfortably weather this storm. But this pandemic is dangerous and scary, and it’s not wrong to crave the comfort of a special meal. So as everything else changes to slow the spread of COVID-19 — to flatten the curve — the system of takeout and delivery must do the same. That includes takeout and delivery customers.

Some businesses allow customers to pay through an app, according to Laura, who manages a local café but has not been authorized to speak for them (which is why we have omitted her last name). In these cases, customers don’t have to exchange a potentially unclean credit card or cash. That’s not always an option for smaller businesses, but expect services like PayPal, Venmo or Cash App to become more common. For delivery, it’s worth asking about no-contact delivery, which ensures neither delivery drivers nor customers have to risk infection through a pen or signed receipt.

“They do everything online or over the phone,” says Lisa Stein, who works for a Denver pizza chain. “I would deliver to [the customer’s] door and ‘ding-dong ditch’ their food, then wait in my car to make sure they came out and got the food.”

No-contact delivery remains sadly uncommon in the U.S., but failing that, Stein suggests customers use their own pens to sign receipts.

Also, be patient and tip generously when ordering out. To keep costs down, restaurants and bars will be short-staffed, so two or three people may be doing the work of eight or nine. And whether a good tip means doing a little receipt arithmetic or keeping cash on hand, customers should tip as if they’ve gotten excellent service at a sit-down restaurant, or at least 20 percent.

“Not a lot of people realize that the people who [work] tipped wage jobs [are paid] way below minimum wage,” says Ashley McNeely, who works in personal finance through Thrivent Financial. “I can only imagine how much they’re hurting because [when customers can’t dine
in]... these people don’t have an opportunity to show you how good they are at what they do. They’re literally relying on the kindness of strangers.”

That tipped minimum wage is $8.98 an hour, well below the $12 an hour minimum for non-tipped work. And that tipped wage applies to delivery drivers, too.

“We do have a delivery fee, but that just goes back to the store to help their insurance for having drivers in the first place,” says Stein. This is common for restaurants with a delivery fee.

But McNeely says she doesn’t believe it’s possible to afford the cost of living in Colorado Springs even making that $12 an hour — not without added personal risks like sharing a small space with roommates. “If you just look at rent, possibly [you can survive], but then you add in utilities, car, phones and groceries… I don’t believe it is possible,” she says.

The people who make and deliver food are people, and they deserve to live com
fortably. Whether the burger on the dinner table came from a fast food chain or a high-end restaurant, it denotes a meaningful connection between the person eating it, the person who boxed it up, the person who cooked it and so on down the line.

Many of these people have to come in to work despite their own fears about COVID-19, whether they’re concerned for their own health or for family.

To make rent, Stein lives with family, including her 86-year-old grandmother. Every time she goes to work, she has to worry about bringing COVID-19 into her home. Her household can’t afford to lose her income, and with people in many industries laid off or furloughed, there’s massive competition for other jobs.

Stein, like everyone in food service right now, has to be very careful and very, very brave in order to stay alive and safe. Those who choose to get food from a restaurant have a collective responsibility to support our foodservice professionals.

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