Daisy Finefrock, hostess at Finney’s in Santa Barbara, makes sure to wear her mask over her nose when serving customers, unlike she’s doing here. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

I’m a host at Finney’s Crafthouse, and that means I’m the first face you see when you walk up to the restaurant, which is owned by my uncle.

When I started working there, just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit California, I didn’t expect to continue my duties past the summer. In fact, at one point, I half-expected the world as we knew it to end, and for my hopes and dreams of earning money during senior year to be ruined.

Yet I soon realized that you don’t have to be working on the front lines with dying patients to be an essential worker. I became one of the many employees necessary for restaurants to stay in business. Besides wearing a mask for six hours straight and dealing with impatient customers, it hasn’t been all that bad — so long as you don’t count the times I’ve been used as a verbal punching bag for the state’s health mandates by people who refuse to get their temperatures taken or cover their nose and mouth.

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Even on good days, there’s a lot of pressure on a host when a mask is covering half of our faces. While trying to be courteous and kind with only the top of my face visible, I do my best to understand what customers are mumbling, hoping to convey a welcoming feeling without my smile as a cue.

Working in a restaurant during this pandemic means sanitizing practically every surface in the vicinity, running bags of hot food out to people in cars, and moving tables further than six feet away per customers’ requests on short notice. I get pity tips and free meals from families who acknowledge the sweat pouring down my forehead as I work to fulfill their demands.

The worst is when I make a little kid cry with my big, scary scan thermometer and the parents just shake their heads at me in disbelief that I’m checking the temperature of their child in order to eat a burger outside. A personal favorite is when customers try to entertain me by asking if I need to take their dog’s temperature.

Complaining aside, I don’t think I’ve ever learned so much about people as I have in my months as a host. I have always heard that working in a restaurant is an essential experience for any teenager, and I fully endorse that now. A few months ago, I might’ve shied away from making small talk with random strangers; now it comes naturally. Whenever I pick up a phone, I start to say, “Hello, this is Daisy at Finney’s Crafthouse, how may I help you?”

When I see hosts, servers, and bartenders at other restaurants, I have a new perspective and increased respect. Interacting with customers all day and working to please them is no easy task, and the pandemic only adds another burden on top. I’m happiest when my work adds a little bit of joy to people’s days — even when all the smiles I can show are in my eyes.

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