County Characters: Restaurant Reflections From A Long-Time Waiter

Sara Lentz has worked in the Maine restaurant industry for over 30 years. A single mother of four children, two of whom are still at home, Lentz has found a balance as a yoga teacher for eight years. (Photo by Nate Poole)

As a restaurant worker for 30 years, Sara Lentz of Edgecomb has seen her profession become a part of the local and national conversation to an unprecedented degree over the past year and a half.

She’s been working in restaurants since she was in high school, usually in the back of the house as a cook or dishwasher. When she had her first two children at 24, Lentz decided she needed to make some money fast, so she took a bartending class.

“Having had children and having had different periods of single parenthood, I found that restaurants had enough flexible working hours that I could make them work,” she said on September 30.

Lentz quit his job at Bath Brewing Company in 2020 when the country was stranded and went out of work for about a year to care for his two youngest children, an 11-year-old and a 9-year-old on the job. autism spectrum, while attending distance school.

She returned to the restaurant industry in March with a job at Sarah’s Cafe in Wiscasset. While all social distancing and masking procedures were new, these changes were superficial compared to staff shortages and changing customer dynamics.

“It was an interesting time to return to the restaurant business,” said Lentz.

She explained that all restaurants are stressful workplaces and calling in sick is always an inconvenience, but with the current understaffing, a waiter taking a day off can make the difference between a business that stays open or that does. closes for the day.

“Even though people tip better and the pay is better, you work twice as hard as before,” she said.

She found that many customers seem keenly aware of the challenges restaurant staff face, due to the extensive media coverage of “essential workers”. She said some clients went out of their way to thank her for what she does, something she never remembers happening until 2020.

While many high school and college students have held seasonal positions at local restaurants this year, truncated training and a glut of shifts on their shoulders has contributed to burnout and dropout.

“These 16 year old kids are trying to talk to unhappy customers or explain why they have to wait half an hour for a table when there are four empty tables. And it’s not something you have the skills to do when you’re 16, ”she said.

Lentz learned a lot about confrontation and communication during his years in the service industry, but it took time and experience to learn these lessons.

“There was a time when I would hide in the kitchen when their food wasn’t ready when it should be, and I’ve learned over 30 years that it’s much better to go to the table and say, “I’m sorry, the kitchen is really shut down right now, and it looks like your food will be ready in 10 minutes,” she said.

Lentz spent her life slowly walking up Route 1. She grew up in Topsham and lived in Georgetown for about 15 years before moving to Bath and Westport Island. Lately, she built a house for her family in Edgecomb.

In her late thirties, Lentz had four children and fast-paced physical labor. Leading this lifestyle was very stressful and she needed a healthy outlet. It was during a yoga class for mom and baby with her youngest son that she decided to pursue yoga and became an instructor eight years ago.

She started teaching about five or six classes a week, generating additional income while also bringing some degree of physical and mental well-being to her life.

“Yoga has really helped me balance my life in so many ways,” she said.

COVID-19 has hit yoga studios in much the same way as restaurants, so she has been teaching limited capacity outdoor classes and virtual home classes since March 2020. She admitted that although she liked the convenience of running classes from home, the environment was not particularly stress-free.

“As a mother of two boys in a semi-chaotic house, (it was) a bit difficult,” she said.

Even now that her sons’ classes are fully face-to-face, she said they had just come out of a week of home school because they were showing symptoms of a cold.

However, Lentz also expressed his gratitude and empathy for everything teachers have to deal with amid the pandemic.

Despite the obvious differences between the restaurant industry and the public education system, Lentz believes professionals from both walks of life have used the pandemic as an opportunity to think about what they want to do with their lives.

“I think they had to totally rethink the teaching,” she said.

Lentz said that for restaurants and school systems to emerge from the pandemic more resilient than before, they will need to reconsider their structural ways to attract and retain staff, rather than simply increasing salaries.

“I think a lot of people who worked in restaurants for a long time, when their restaurants closed for three months, they decided to go back to school or they decided to work from home,” she said. .

Many people are pursuing new avenues due to COVID-19, and Lentz said the past few years have fueled his desire to become more financially self-sufficient. She recently bought land in Alna, and intends to set up a yurt there next year where she will offer yoga classes by donation.

Despite the uncertainty of continued staffing difficulties at local restaurants and the alarming number of state government cases, Lentz is optimistic about the future based on information she and many others have gleaned over the course. of the past year and a half.

“The good thing about it all is that it really made us all rethink our priorities and think about what’s important to us and what we want,” she said.

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Richard Dement

The author Richard Dement