Scooping ice cream is not exactly rocket science. Most, if not all of the tasks required of us at Ben & Jerry’s are not too hard or too time-consuming. The biggest challenge of all comes with the territory of providing people a service.
I have worked at the St. Armands location of Ben & Jerry’s for almost two years now. Prior to the virus, the worst part of my job still was serving rude and entitled guests. Once the shop had to start adjusting to the pandemic to keep the employees and the customers safe, these changes opened up a whole new can of worms.
In March 2020, Ben & Jerry’s closed its doors due to the national lockdown. After the Florida government allowed certain businesses to reopen, the shop opened its doors once again in early May. The pandemic necessitated a significant shift in the way we operated the shop once we returned.
The franchise owner of the shop spent thousands of dollars installing fiber-glass panels hanging over the counter, placed perfectly in between employees and guests. Social distancing stickers lined the floor, six feet apart. Signs mandating face masks and social distancing were scattered throughout the shop.
The owner instructed us to handle the lines in a different and safer manner. Previously when the shop would get busy, there would be a line out the door, with all the guests crammed together tightly like sardines. The owner told us this would no longer be acceptable. For the foreseeable future, only a maximum of three groups could be in the store at any given moment. The rest of the line was to wait outside of the shop.
This was a drastic change, but we were able to shift to this method fairly easily. I believe it kept a lot of people safe. Ben and Jerry’s was one of few businesses on St. Armands Circle taking this much precaution amidst the pandemic. Despite this, all of us at the shop knew we wouldn’t be able to go on this way forever.
After a couple months, towards the end of the summer, we were told that we would stop enforcing social distancing as much as before. We were to allow the line to come inside the shop once again. I believe that once we started easing back on some of our restrictions, we opened the floodgates to COVID skeptics and anti-maskers to come into the shop.
When we were strictly enforcing social distancing, we almost never received trouble for the way that we were conducting business. Everyone that came in took note of the precautions and people would comment on it, both positively and negatively.
Once we allowed customers to come back into the shop, people seemed as if they treated the pandemic with much less respect. We began to see people coming in without masks and refusing to wear one, but still insistent on being served ice cream. In extreme cases, there would be bouts of yelling about not wearing a mask, and at times, altercations between the employees and customers could get very confrontational. I think the increase of anti-maskers came as a mix of the relaxing of our regulations, as well as time passing and the public getting sick of dealing with COVID.
As time has gone on, the amount of anti-maskers spotted coming into Ben and Jerry’s has reached an all-time high. At work, we groan when we see a group enter without masks. We reach for the bucket of masks we have to provide to the customers that enter without them. When we ask if they can wear masks while they’re in the shop, experience has led us to brace ourselves for the real possibility of a screaming match. Recently these confrontations between employees and customers have occurred as many as four to five times a week.
Due to the backlash that masks can cause, recently the manager of the shop asked if the employees would feel comfortable not requiring everyone to wear a mask in order to get served. The response from us was an overwhelming no. I don’t believe the solution to this problem is to give in to the demands of the people who refuse to treat other people with respect.
I believe the solution comes with the upper management of the shop siding with the employees in taking a stand against people who have no regard for the health and safety of others. One of my coworkers, shift leader Jordan Borkholder agreed with this point.
“Employees should not be the ones enforcing masks,” Borkholder commented. “It’s a conflict situation and should be handled by someone who’s trained for conflict situations, not someone who’s there to provide an upbeat attitude.”
We employees enforcing masks and having to put ourselves in danger over the sale of ice cream puts an unnecessary burden on us.