The outbreak of COVID-19 in early 2020, and subsequent social distancing and self-isolation protocols have wreaked havoc on restaurant workers everywhere. With most restaurants operating on dine-out only, and many having closed their doors, restaurant staff are left with hours reduced—or out of a job entirely.
This blog is dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of restaurant workers struggling in the “new normal” with COVID-19—a collection of strategies, resources, and tips to help you survive and thrive.
While the news may be overrun with COVID-19 updates 24/7, staying informed about the situation can help keep you safe. However, that doesn’t mean tuning into any news station or opening up your #COVID19-ridden Twitter feed everyday.
To keep your stress levels under control, while keeping yourself safe and informed about the coronavirus situation, reduce your exposure to social media-driven news and rely on a select few reliable sources.
Finding reliable sources
- The World Health Organization has a COVID-19 resource page which lays out prevention, symptoms, and research surrounding the coronavirus disease
- The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) provides timely updates on the outbreak, a tool for self-assessment, and details symptoms and protection tips
- Your local government website should provide reliable and frequent updates on the COVID-19 situation in your state, province, or territory
Reading through your social feeds and local news sites about the latest COVID-19 scares is only going to hurt your mental health. Block access to fear-mongering news sites, blacklist certain terms on your social media (like #COVID-19 or #Coronavirus), and try to reduce your news consumption overall.
Staying connected with your restaurant
Understanding what your own restaurant is doing during COVID-19 is important, whether you are working now or waiting to see when the business will reopen. Keep an eye on your 7shifts account as your managers have been encouraged to post Announcements to keep your team in the know.
Managing financial wellbeing
Unemployment applications in the U.S. have skyrocketed to over 26 million since the COVID-19 shut down, with millions of restaurant workers suffering from reduced hours or temporary lay-offs. Understanding the financial relief programs available to you, as well as getting a handle on budgeting, can help you better navigate your new financial situation.
Financial relief programs
There are many financial relief programs offered by governments and hospitality organizations to help keep restaurant workers paid during COVID-19.
There are many other charities and restaurant organizations raising and donating funds to help support our restaurant workers. You can find a full list of financial relief programs at our blog: COVID-19 Restaurant Relief Programs.
Budgeting through COVID-19
Making every penny count during self-isolation relies on proper budgeting. Many restaurant workers with reduced hours may be struggling more than ever to make ends meet, while others may be receiving unemployment benefits that keep their income stable—either way, properly managing your funds through a proper budget is a key step to successfully navigating the “new normal” with COVID-19.
💰Tip: Start getting a sense of your spending habits with a simple Google Spreadsheet—nothing fancy, and completely free. Follow the steps below to figure out how you’ve been spending your money. Then, with a budget in place, you can use a product like Mint or YNAB (You Need a Budget) to help you plan and track your future spending to stay on budget.
Here are a few simple steps you can take to manage your funds.
1.Track your income and assets
Budgeting your income starts by...tracking your income. By figuring out how much you have coming in each month, you’ll be able to break that out on the essential spending categories.
Determine how much your spending has to change based on how your income has changed. For example, if you’ve had a 30% reduction in your monthly income, you’ll have to cut your spending by 30% (or more) as well.
In your income, track any money you’re making through the restaurant (if you’re still working), any unemployment or financial relief benefits you’re receiving, and any other sources of income. If you have an emergency fund from pre-COVID-19, you may want to dip into that as well if necessary to supplement your income.
The total income you have for each month is all of these together. Once you have that, we can start looking at breaking out your income into spending categories.
2. Create budget categories of your main expenses
If you haven’t budgeted before, evaluating where and how you’re spending money can be a huge eye-opener—and can make cutting your expenses easier than you might think.
Evaluating your spending habits over the last few months by going through your banking and credit card activity.
Categorize your major expenses into groups such as:
Once you have your main categories down, you can break them down further to uncover more insights about your spending habits. For example:
- Dining out
- Take-out / delivery
- Coffee / treats
If your food budget is high, breaking down what food items you’re spending money on can help you cut down your spending later.
Another example is the Lifestyle category, which can include things like hobby spending (art supplies, gaming), gym memberships, and nights out. Deciding what lifestyle categories are important to you starts by breaking them down.
Once you have your categories down pat, you can start looking at where you can cut your spending to live within your new means.
3. Tighten your belt on non-essential spending
Non-essential spending categories, such as your lifestyle and recreation spending, are the best opportunities to cut down on to save money.
Some categories you may be able to cut down on are:
- Takeout, delivery, and fast food
- Alcohol and coffee
- Software subscriptions (consider consolidating your streaming services!)
- Entertainment (video games, movies, etc.)
- Shopping (clothing, house wares, etc.)
- Groceries (stick to cheaper grocery stores, buy off-brand items, etc.)
If you’re sheltering at home and still paying for memberships that you’re unable to take advantage of (e.g. transit passes, gym memberships), then be sure to call and cancel to save a few extra bucks every month.
When you pare down your non-essential spending, you might be surprised about how much “extra” money you can find within your own income.
4. Evaluate your essential spending
With non-essential spending under control, you may think you’re done—but with COVID-19, there may be more wiggle room around your essential spending than you think. Consider these options:
- Internet & TV bills: Contact your provider to see if they have any special deals or promos during COVID-19, or consider moving to a cheaper plan.
- Phone bills: Again, contact your service provider to see if there are any deals on. If you’re isolating at home, consider switching to a lower data plan and rely more on your home Wi-Fi to save money.
- Mortgage & rent: Some landlords, banks, and rental companies are allowing for suspended mortgage or rent payments during the COVID-19 situation. Ask your contact if anything like this is possible.
- Utilities: Some utility companies are suspending disconnections during COVID-19—contact your company to find out more about what they’re doing.
- Student loans: Find out if your school is suspending student loan payments during COVID-19, as many have deferred payments until next year.
If you’re not sure about a particular bill or service, it may be worth it to get in touch with your provider to see what they’re offering around the COVID-19 situation.
5. Save money
If you didn’t have an emergency fund before (or even if you did), it’s clear to see now why a bit of savings to pad your income can be so beneficial. Once you’ve gone through and optimized your budget for the new normal around COVID-19, consider putting away any extra money into a savings account.
Nobody knows how long this situation will last, and how long it might be until you’re back to work at the restaurant, so readying yourself financially is the best thing you can do to prepare for the future.
Maintaining mental & physical health
Mental health self-care
It’s normal for you to be dealing with increased stress and anxiety now with COVID-19 forcing people to stay isolated.
We provided a few tips on self-care in our mental health blog, but here’s a quick rundown:
- Limit your exposure to the news 📰
- Connect with people online through games or chat apps 💬
- Take up a meditation practice 🧘♂️
- Seek virtual therapy 🤗
- Binge watch TV 📺
- Set yourself a realistic routine 📝
- Set goals 🥅
- Spend time in the sun ☀️
- Catch up on sleep 😴
If you’re struggling and need someone to talk to, there are mental health lines you can call. Find a hotline in your area to meet your needs from this list.
Physical wellbeing plays a huge part in your overall health—but with new isolation protocols, many are finding it tricky to stay active.
“One of the things that really hit me hard during the early part of this was how sedentary I became. I think, including work, I was hitting about ten miles of walking everyday and now that's over.” — Becca, Server at The Huckleberry
While gyms across the world may be closed due to quarantine, there are many trainers and other fitness professionals offering coaching and workout plans for free online to help support the community.
Here are a few options to help you stay active during COVID-19:
Use some of your newfound extra time to explore workout options and find new paths in your neighborhood. You may have to try out a few things before you find something that works for you!
You can find more physical wellbeing tips in our blog: COVID-19 Mental Health and Physical Wellness Tips for Restaurant Workers
Cooking healthy at home
Maintaining a healthy, nutritious diet during self-isolation can do wonders for both your mental and physical health. However, many restaurant staff are not used to handling their own meals at home.
“A lot of servers eat out constantly because we work in places with food–couple that with being young and you have servers who have to make food for themselves for the first time." — Becca, Server at The Huckleberry
Thankfully, the internet is chock-full of easy recipes that don’t require fancy ingredients (which your grocery budget will thank you for).
COVID-19 is proving to be a trying time for everyone. If you’re struggling, reach out to our team online! We’d love to see if there’s anything we can do to help. We’ll continue building out this post as well as providing more resources on our Instagram page—follow to stay updated.