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Restaurant workers face smaller tips, mask resistance as California beach town struggles with COVID-19 slump

By Stephanie Lai, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. — Aileen Delaportilla shook the tip jar after half a day's work at Zack's Beach Concessions in Huntington Beach, Calif. The clatter of loose change echoed from the nearly empty jar labeled "Tips For College."

There was nothing more than a spare dollar and some change to split between the 21-year-old and the cook.

Before the pandemic, Delaportilla could make at least $15 in tips after splitting with four other employees, but recently she was scraping by with $6 split between herself and one other worker. Shifts used to be staffed by four workers at a time, but the business had cut down to two employees per shift.

The stream of tourists that used to fill this Orange County beach city slowed down, and what was often left were locals who didn't always want to follow California's guidelines on protecting against COVID-19 — by wearing masks, for example.

"We missed out on our peak business season because of the pandemic," Delaportilla said. "There are a lot of locals still, but usually they're the crowd that doesn't want to wear masks or believe in the pandemic."

Across downtown Huntington Beach, business owners and workers have reported substantial declines in tips amid a decline in tourism during the summer and early fall months.

 

With much of their customer base gone, businesses have had to rely more on local residents. As out-of-state tourism declined, a growing number of restless Southern California residents from Los Angeles and the Inland Empire visited as local officials pushed to reopen Orange County beaches and businesses while other counties remained closed. Still, business owners say that didn't make up for the overall decline.

The pandemic unleashed a new slew of problems for these service workers who rely on work to pay their bills. Working, and working harder, to make up for fewer employees and fewer tips was the only option Delaportilla had.

She did not want to come back to work, and neither did her parents, who are 56 and 64 years old. They feared for the family's safety but were left no choice, as both of her parents were laid off in March from their jobs as a warehouse worker and a car salesman.

Delaportilla took on a 40-hour workweek to provide for her family in addition to her coursework at Golden West College, where she is a business major.

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