Credit: Dylan Curtis

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Hospitality industry workers are known for thinking on their feet. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, that meant adjusting recipes to accommodate a food allergy or moving outdoor diners inside during unexpected rain storms. But as the pandemic continues to disrupt order of our worlds, the servers, bartenders, cooks, managers, and pastry chefs who make dining out special have had to play by new rules to keep themselves and their patrons safe.

Some have soldiered on despite losing a loved one to virus. Others have experienced violent backlash from people unwilling to wear masks or who attacked them based on their race. Those whose bars and restaurants couldn’t keep them on staff spent months negotiating a complex and outdated unemployment system. Others weren’t eligible for formalized benefits because of their immigration status. A handful of workers even left the industry for more stable careers or to provide childcare while their spouses continued working.

City Paper asked current and former restaurant and bar employees to scroll through their phones to find the one photo of an object that captures their experience over the past seven months. They’ll live on this page as a virtual time capsule representing a time of uncertainty and anxiety, but also a few small joys.