It’s Time for Diners to Ask the Servers: How Are You Doing?

This is such a simple and sensible policy that there is no reason every restaurant should not adopt it.

Mr. Williams said he felt his managers had done a good job of protecting their employees, but that wasn’t the case at all restaurants. “It feels like a lot of other owners have been willfully ignorant to the dangers to their employees, and that’s been really frustrating to me,” he said.

As for the customers who don’t lean back when he has to reach in to clear a plate, or the group who laughed loudly without covering their mouths just as he got to their table, Mr. Williams said he tries to look for charitable explanations. “I want to believe that people are just not thinking, ‘Oh, this is dangerous’” for the staff, he said. “It’s dangerous for them, too, to be honest. I wonder if they’re not thinking it through. I want to believe that maybe that’s it.”

Many hospitality workers may well be reluctant to rock the boat, given how rare jobs have become. Before the pandemic, about 315,000 people worked in the restaurant industry in New York. In August, employment stood at a little more than half that level, according to a report issued Thursday by the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli.

Because the jobs that remain are more stressful than they used to be, some servers are actively looking for new careers.

“One of my friends is leaving his coffee shop to go work in a distillery that is giving them a better option that is safe,” Mx. Law said. “I’m trying to go get a coding degree in order to get a job where I can work remotely. I’m trying to get out because it’s very clear that this isn’t ending any time soon.”

The longer the pandemic goes on, the more likely it seems that skilled and talented servers will flee the business. What is called the restaurant industry is, in fact, deeply reliant on things that can’t be produced on an assembly line. Outside the chains, the food and drinks are made by hand and sold by hand, too. The people in charge of sales, the servers, are experts at turning this into something better than a transaction.

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