Restaurants provide solace, sustenance, acceptance, joy and a much-needed escape for countless communities. The employees who greet you at the door, take your order and mix your cocktails are essential workers who create memories and make magic happen every day.

But in the last year, frequently changing guidelines and restrictions have upended the lives of millions of people who work in hospitality nationwide — people who are now experiencing under-employment, unemployment or job descriptions they never could have imagined. It’s estimated that 372,000 jobs from food services and drinking places were lost in December 2020.

A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, we talked to four longtime hospitality workers.

Dante De La Rosa, 57, server at Las Brisas in Laguna Beach

“I got into the hospitality business because I failed high school,” Dante De La Rosa said. The longtime Las Brisas server was seated at a table in the dining room of his restaurant on a recent afternoon. His salt-and-pepper hair was slicked back and a lighting-bolt-shaped earring caught the sunlight in his left ear.

Growing up in Acapulco, De La Rosa wanted to be a famous singer (his windswept locks rivaled Farrah Fawcett’s). But when he flunked out of school, his parents sent him to work at Carlos ’N Charlie’s, a friend’s restaurant in Acapulco de Juárez.

“I hated it,” he said. “My friends were all going to surf the beach and I had to go to work.”

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