As the pandemic continues to take its toll on businesses around the world, the future of the restaurant industry is uncertain. There are weeks, possibly months, to go until COVID-19 restrictions are raised, and the question asked by the restaurant staff bartender is, how will they pay the bill? To rent? Health?
Canadian nonprofits initiated by industry members have stepped in, raising funds for industry professionals whose jobs have been disrupted.
“That The Bartender Good Fund started as an informal idea to help bartenders who need financial assistance, in 2013, “ explained co-founder Jonny Gray, who started BBF together with industry veteran Dr. Andrew Toplack from Toplack session and Jonathan Humphrey from Drake property and Toronto Cocktail Conference. (Embarrassing TikiAlana Nogueda and Moneris’ Bev Wooding have joined since then.) “We knew from the start that a sick or injured bartender was also a person who struggled to pay their rent and bills and we wanted to provide clean security where none had existed before. “
BBF places funds in the pockets of Canadian restaurant and bar staff who are experiencing financial difficulties. Applications are reviewed and funds are allocated by a panel of local industry members. All professional bartenders, servers, and FOH staff in Canada with hourly wages are entitled to apply, provided they have a social insurance number and have a job on or after January 5, 2020.
Until now, big brands have placed monetary support behind BBF’s efforts. Corby Spirit and Wine and Diageo Canada donated $ 100,000 in the meantime Beam Suntory Canada has given $ 50,000. William Grant & Sons has contributed $ 25,000, as it did Breakthru drinks Canada.
The program initially started as a nonprofit focused in Toronto, but when the government-mandated closure of COVID-19 affected tens of thousands of industry members across the country, the Benevolent Fund Bartender stepped up operations. “Because Covid-19 became a pandemic that closed all of our country’s bars and restaurants with a government mandate, we knew someone needed to help, “Gray said.
Gray cites the lack of support options for bartenders as part of the catalyst for the cause. “We looked around and didn’t see many options available so we had a very large internal conversation. The only way we know to do this is to replicate our model to cover the country. We evolved from bartenders to hourly servers and FOH support staff, implemented a system for them to anonymously apply for financial assistance, and recruited dozens of volunteers, consisting of hospitality industry professionals so that each application could be judged by someone who best understood your needs , from your area. “
The bar industry has been affected by the effects of COVID-19. The bar was not built to offer takeout and delivery, leaving most industrial businesses to dismiss staff and owners to rely on savings or stimulus to deal with the crisis. This pandemic also shows a big hole in how the entire industry operates – in the world of hospitality, low wages and stagnation are the norm (with a tip – often undeclared – counting most of the income), and the health insurance provided by the company is extraordinary.
South of the border, United States Bartender Union have been overwhelmed by applications for funds to support their charity arm. The $ 7 million fund has received more than 300,000 applications, but board member Kim Haasarud anticipates that between 15,000 and 50,000 industry leave members will receive money.
“Our non-profit now has 24 volunteers who donate their time from all over the country, “said BBF Gray. “We have raised nearly $ 400,000 in sponsorship that we give to those who need it most on a weekly cycle. To date, we have processed more than 170 applications, and distributed more than $ 60,000 to hospitality staff nationally. “
Ongoing corporate and personal donations for both charity funds will help increase the number of non-employed bar employees who are given support.
Spirit brands have lined up to support bartenders, some through donations to USBG and BBF, and others, through cocktail contests that are brand-driven and virtual happy hour. (Although some brands have come under fire for making competition prize money almost equivalent to the price of buying a bottle, making it a humble effort, a low reward for bartenders who don’t work.)
“We are in an industry where we do not have many resources for assistance because of unforeseen circumstances,” said Alana Nogueda, co-owner of The Shameful Tiki in Toronto and BBF board member. “When there’s a problem, many of us don’t have a ‘backup’ plan. COVID-19 has hit the industry very hard and we have to get together and help each other through this. “
“We are here to help people in need,” concluded Nogueda. “With an outlet like this, I just hope we can hear the voices of the people who need it most.”