Elise Taylor, a 21-year-old University of Tennessee at Chattanooga graduate, says the sudden loss of income from her job as a server at a downtown restaurant has her terrified.
Taylor, a Old Hickory, Tennessee, native who gained notoriety in recent months for her late-night missions to feed some of Chattanooga's homeless citizens, isn't easily frightened.
But she and her server friends are wondering how they will make end's meet until restaurants fully reopen, Taylor said in an interview.
Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke on Thursday called for all dine-in service at Chattanooga-area restaurants to be discontinued until further notice to help curb the spread of COVID-19. Take-out service will still be allowed.
"I'm terrified right now," said Taylor, who works as a server at Puckett's Grocery and Restaurant near the Tennessee Aquarium. "... It's like you've been ripped away from your sustenance."
Taylor said even before the mayor's announcement, she had been told not to return to work at Puckett's for the time being, as only salaried employees would be manning take-out stations.
Pressure on local restaurants had been building for days, Taylor said, as customers had slowed to a trickle even before the new restaurant rules were put in place. During her Sunday shift tending bar at Puckett's, she said friends who came in to support her accounted for most of her customers.
The situation is doubly disappointing, she said, because March is typically the month when Chattanooga restaurant servers get a boost in tips because of a surge in spring break tourism. For servers, customer traffic is crucial to their tip income, which accounts for the lion's share of their pay.
"As a server, I only make $2.13 (an hour)," Taylor said. "So, if I am in the restaurant for eight hours, I've only made about $16 for that day. Without tips, at the end of the week you are looking at making 60 bucks."
Too, Taylor says the coronavirus situation is making it harder for her to hand out sandwiches to the homeless, a weekly ritual tied to her belief in living by the Bible's Golden Rule.
Some of the kitchens that donate to her cause have also shut down, she said.
"I unfortunately lost all of my donations. Everything is closing," she said. "It feels like the world is still right now. As crazy as everything is, it feels like everything is frozen. I'm not doing anything that is in my normal routine."
One bright spot, Taylor says, came when she recently got a notification that one of her regular customers had sent her a tip on one of the new "help-a-server" websites that is popping up on social media. Taylor says she had made $12 in the last couple of days from kind people using the apps.
The online link (https://serviceindustry.tips/tn/chattanooga/) allows anyone to give an online gratuity to a local server (the website randomly picks a person and tells you his or her name and restaurant). It also has a link so servers can add their names to the pool.
"When you send that server 5 bucks, you will make that server's day — I guarantee it," Taylor said. "We are all sitting at home saying, 'What are we going to do next?'"
Contact Mark Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.