The restaurant industry has been in free-fall during the pandemic, and Mexico is no exception.
More than 2.1 million people in the country work in restaurants. For every five employed people, one is an employee of the industry.
“All of this has been very hard,” said Remigio Ortiz, a unionized waiter at Café La Parroquia in Veracruz, Mexico.
“The Café was closed for months … Then it opened, but only for delivery. There has been a lot of financial anxiety that turns into emotional anxiety.”
Restaurants are the second-largest economic sector in Mexico, according to the recent censuses of the National Institute of Statistics and Geography.
While restaurants have found a way to continue operating despite the pandemic, either by offering food for takeout or delivery, waiters have lost their jobs or seen their salary cut in half. Plus, their income often depended on tips collected during their shifts. Without customers, those tips are not reaching their pockets.
In regular times, an average Mexican waiter would make 4,000 pesos ($200) per month before tips. Although there are no officials figures on the amount of money that restaurant workers earn on tips, it is often a significant supplement to their income.
Mexico manages its lockdown with a stoplight code, a red light means the most dangerous moments and total lockdown. The government has kept changing the light from red to orange and back to red. Some venues open when the stoplight is in orange and have to close again.
But not everybody is that brave.
Several restaurant owners had not reactivated their services. Those who had, have not seen the businesses pick up the traffic they had before the pandemic.
Some waiters’ associations have built a support network that includes training, recommendations and advice to improve customer service. However, this program does not give financial support, which many workers need.
The union has not been able to help, either. “It is a pity. The union cannot do much because the economy is paralyzed,” said Ortiz. “It is not that the employer is violating any law. It is a complex issue.”
The restaurant industry’s reactivation will come once customers are safe. But for this to happen, businesses must guarantee health standards and vaccines administered.
Social security in Mexico is tied to medical insurance and a savings system that helps people acquire low-income housing. Workers must remain employed to be eligible for all those benefits. In the current situation, those who lost their jobs might be unable to utilize affordable medical services and or pay for their homes.
(Translated and edited by Gabriela Olmos. Edited by Fern Siegel)