Baby Boo is making a face that means she might soon begin to cry. Priya’s neck is sweating. Her armpits are sweating.
Chef Rajiv Bhatia, Owner and Head Cook, of one of Los Angeles’ finest Indian restaurants, Bombay Grill, yells, “Pick up for Table number 6, ready!” as he swiftly ladles goat curry fragrant with peppercorns, ginger, and coconut milk atop a puddle of basmati rice. That’s the order for her customer in the corner booth, an olive-hued man in his 30s, lightly tanned, wearing a taupe-colored Stetson hat that covers most of his face.
Priya bends into Baby Boo’s stroller and tickles her cheek with her hair because even a mama in crisis comforts her baby. That’s the minimum, automatic human response. Boo’s arms flail out, and then she snuggles in. She is fuzzy and smells like pie. Priya holds her breath. Maybe, just maybe, Boo will settle into her nap, and she can whisk off to get food to the taciturn customer who had reeled off his order, not looking up to make eye contact with Priya.
But, Boo begins to wail, staring up at Priya, sucking on her fist. Priya leans down, pops the buckles on Boo’s harness with one hand, and hoists her on her lap, bouncing the baby gently in her arms—this is what she’s learned from four months of motherhood. Constant motion is paramount. With her other hand, she grabs the plate and balances it on her forearm, trying not to wince as the hot dish sears through her long-sleeved black polyester blouse.
She juggles the baby and the plate with practiced ease, setting it down in front of the customer, next to a stemmed glass filled with champagne. He looks up at her for a brief moment, his light brown eyes opening wide in amazement.
He clears his throat noisily, “Um . . . is that your child?”
“Yup,” Priya nods wryly. “Single mom working double shifts to make ends meet. End of story. Now, is there anything else I can get for you, Sir?”
The man shakes his head, and begins to devour his meal, inhaling the aroma before he even has a chance to sip his drink. Cuddling Boo against her with a sigh, Priya heads for the kitchen.
“In you go, sweetie,” she says as she settles Boo in her high chair. She puts a teething biscuit on the tray to appease the baby while collecting the remaining diners’ orders.
An hour later, she goes to check on the customer in the corner booth. He is gone, an empty fork resting on his half-eaten dessert of cardamom and pineapple pie—a heavenly confection of crisp, flaky pocket pastry stuffed with a warm fruit filling that bursts out of it in a passion of color—mostly brown yellows and cinnamon golds.
The check has been paid for the $32 bill with a credit card. There are two $500 bills resting on the flocked silver tray with a note scrawled on the bill: “I am so impressed with your work ethic and how you’re struggling to support your baby in a society where people don’t want to work anymore.” Next to his glass of iced water are two tickets to the ‘Mickey Singh All-Live Concert in the U.S.’ for next Saturday night.
Priya’s eyes fill up. She closes them to stop the tears from falling.
The phrase “no one wants to work anymore” has gained popularity as some businesses blame the labor shortage on lazy workers. Stores and restaurants around the U.S. are struggling to fill their rosters. Covid-related immigration restrictions have greatly limited the number of foreign workers entering the US and a dwindling number of people are willing and able to accept the grueling requirements of the hospitality industry amid a lingering pandemic. The answer?
Michael Lastoria, CEO of &Pizza, a restaurant chain in Washington D.C., claims that he’s bombarded with job applications. Michael Lastoria told Insider that business was booming at the pizza chain’s 51 locations, and all were fully staffed. He said the secret was paying staff a proper wage.
Like any other industry, restaurants rely on their staff. The tight labor market has put workers at an advantage—some have used the time to look for better-paying jobs with better working conditions.
“They’re refusing to go back because they’re not seeing a matching increase in wage. That’s not lazy; that’s people being aware that their work is being exploited,” says Priya, as she nuzzles Boo. The baby looks up at her and smiles with her whole face: her cheeks bunch, her black eyes glimmer, her chest puffs up, and her fists thrash in delight as Priya mentally runs through the list of people she can call to babysit while she attends the concert.
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