Editor’s note: On the Front Lines recognizes those in the community who are confronting the coronavirus pandemic head-on, while the rest of us do our part by stepping back.
Jamie McBride, general manager at Dick’s Drive-In in downtown Spokane, has been leading by example for the past 27 years.
With the COVID-19 pandemic preventing in-person dining, many customers have opted for takeout.
Customers may expect it to be business as usual at Dick’s, which serves customers at a walk-up window, but McBride said it has been a struggle to keep up with demand while understaffed.
“We’re running short-handed all the time right now,” she said. “It’s been rough trying to operate business as usual, but the customers really expect us to.”
When coronavirus spread to Spokane, McBride told her staff they didn’t have to continue working if they weren’t comfortable.
“It’s all new to all of us,” she said. “The best I can offer them is if they wanted to be taken off the schedule, that was a choice they were given.”
At Dick’s, employees peel and cut potatoes for french fries, blanch chicken, make their own breadings and perform a host of other food prep. Rather than using frozen food, most things at Dick’s are made fresh, meaning it takes a full staff to keep the kitchen fully stocked.
Not only is McBride short-staffed, she also has to spend extra time encouraging customers to social distance and stay away from the roped-off picnic tables that normally provide seating for the hamburger stand.
“With social distancing we do the best we can,” she said. “We try to get the customers to cooperate.”
McBride is an expert at getting people to cooperate, though, after years managing teens in entry-level jobs at Dick’s.
She started at Dick’s as a teenager and loved working for her boss, co-owner Lynda Peterson, so much she never left.
“She’s always hanging around,” McBride said of Peterson. “She was working on the floor as the general manager for many years here.”
When McBride’s husband died when she was just 28, Peterson stepped in and helped support McBride while she raised her three children.
Now as a manager, McBride tries to have the same giving spirit.
“Everybody has a story, and you have to remember that,” she said.
However, caring about her employees doesn’t mean she doesn’t have high expectations.
“My boss that I work for right now, her expectations were always high,” she said of Peterson. “I feel like the example you set makes a big difference on what you can expect from these guys.”
McBride makes it a point to explain why procedures are the way they are to her employees, so they understand why they need to maintain them.
“I always tell them why, because to me, that’s important,” she said.
That has carried over to employees calling in sick during the pandemic.
“Right now, you don’t question anybody. They say they don’t feel good, you can’t do it,” McBride said.
She has had a couple of employees be sick multiple days in a row and encouraged them to get tested for the virus. The tests came back negative, but McBride said you can’t be too careful.
The one bright spot has been customers’ generosity, she said.
“We don’t get a lot of tips here” under normal circumstances, McBride said. Over the past month, people have been tipping almost double.
“It’s not much, but still, for these guys, it’s nice to get that once-a-month little $25 bonus,” she said.
People also have been calling to make sure they’re open, something that reminds McBride that people value Dick’s.
“That makes you feel good, that they can go through any drive-thru or whatever, but they’re tickled we’re open,” she said.
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