'It Feels Alone. It Feels Scary' — A Maine Restaurant Worker Struggles With An Uncertain Future

May 18, 2020

Many workers in Maine’s hospitality industry continue to face an uncertain future, even as the state begins to gradually reopen for the summer.

Government relief has come in a number of forms — a stimulus check, expanded unemployment and the Payroll Protection Program — yet hospitality workers say they still need help.

As part of our series “Deep Dive: Coronavirus,” we hear from one restaurant worker in Rockland who says she has been put in a tight spot financially — struggling to pay rent, and talks about the stress it has caused.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

“Rockland, as a community, I've seen a lot of strength become more than it was before this COVID-19. I just don’t want people to over forget about their local businesses. My name is Bianca Brancella, I work at the Rockland cafe. I am a seasonal server. I don’t know when I’m going back to work. My unemployment has run out, as of three weeks ago. My benefits are exhausted.

“It’s been a struggle, day-to-day. We all have this six-foot distancing in different manners, we all have different regulations and rules. For example, we can’t have any salt, pepper, ketchup or anything on the table. So it’s all has to be packed as disposable throw-aways.

“We have to lose seating. Again, we’re a small dining room, but we’re a local hotspot, if I, if I can. So it’s, usually elbow-to-elbow in there.

“And with that rule of distancing, that’s going to play a huge impact on how many servers we are allowed to have in the area. Your contact-to-contact, your way of making money is altered, like the way I would make my tips. That’s not going to work, also, because your tips are based on your personality, and your conduct. And when you take all those out, you’re taking away everything that you can base your money upon. So I’m really worried that a lot of these rules are gonna impact a lot of the income coming in for whatever income that is. And not to mention the winter is going to be extremely hard, I feel.

“We’ve taken away all of our cruises, our Maine lobster festival, all of our fairs, our solstices, the blues festivals, those things are what the hotels or restaurants in the Rockland economy lives on.

“It feels alone. It feels scary. Day-to-day living you just don’t know, you know, people look at you when they see you in public kind of like you’re an alien, almost, because of they’re afraid to come so many feet close to you. It runs a toll on your mental stress, your emotional distress, your physical being and, you know, you started becoming comfortable staying home, and then when you go out, it’s a whole other world out here.

“This is no one’s fault. None of this is in our hands, we all know that, but at the same time, we all shouldn’t have to go without because of that either.

“So I’d like to see some ongoing progress with how everybody’s going to be taken care of and how everybody’s going to be fairly taken care of. I mean, I don’t know what the new normal is going to be and if it’ll ever be the same. I Hope that could work toward that. If you can do your best to look to the person to the left of you and see if they’re okay. And if we all started doing that, I think we’d all be OK.”

This interview is part of our series “Deep Dive: Coronavirus.” For more in the series, visit mainepublic.org/coronavirus.