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Restaurant industry workers affected by COVID-19

Staff at restaurants like West Side Social are faced with financial difficulty due to COVID-19 (Photo courtesy of the West Side Social Facebook page).

By Maxx Kriger


One thing that relatively few news organizations have covered in light of this epidemic is how the poorest of people are often the most affected by national disasters. Restaurant industry workers are not necessarily the poorest of the poor, but it is a massive industry that many people feel is undervalued and underpaid.


Paul Ce, 19, a Grand Rapids Community College student who worked at Panera at the Rivertown Mall before the outbreak, is not sure what he is going to do for money during the Michigan Governor’s stay at home order. Ce had his hours cut over a week before the executive order due to falling sales and prioritization given to full-time employees and people with children. 


He also mentioned that work isn’t the only way COVID-19 has hurt him. 


“Schooling has been a lot harder,” Ce said. “I’ve been struggling without face to face interaction, and my speech class is still working on transitioning to online.” 


Matt Benscoter, 35, is doing just about as good as anyone in the restaurant industry right now. He is a salaried chef who is still working at West Side Social on Lake Michigan Drive and Pepino’s in Grand Rapids. 


“Obviously with work, it’s really hit the business hard… our sales are about  3% what they normally are,” said Benscoter. “Also, we’ve had to stop doing dine-ins and raise all bars of sanitation to protect our employees and the customer.” 


Hope College has been serving mostly international students since the school shut down and local residents are going off campus. Tony Kriger is unemployed, but was Assistant Supervisor at Hope’s Phelps Dining Hall. He said the campus is just making about 40-50 box lunches a day now.


“I got laid off a couple weeks ago, then went back to work last week, and now I’m laid off again,” Kriger said. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to work again. It could be June. It could be September.” For people who work in college dining, this is a major concern. “I’m on unemployment for now, but I’ll have to find something else if my unemployment doesn’t go up soon.”


Aside from the obvious work concerns, Kriger feels most affected by COVID-19 when he’s prevented from seeing his extended family as much and having a hard time running day to day errands.