There is no sugarcoating what is happening in the service industry right now.
The COVID-19 pandemic has already had devastating consequences for people all over the world, and we fear the worst is yet to come. The bartending community, in particular, has been thrust into financial hardship with a very unpredictable future.
We asked our Chilled 100 bartenders to share how they are coping through this crisis. As the husband of an analyst, Houston bartender Chris Morris, who is dealing with his city being shut down for a second week, wanted to put a number to the predicted tip revenue that would be lost in his city.
“There are approximately 12,200 restaurants in the Houston area alone, if we ballpark it to 13,000 to include bars—it seems kind of low but that’s just conjecture. Using his own formula, he estimates conservatively that a small bar, for instance, employing one bartender, three servers, and a support person every night can earn about $125 each a night in tips on a slow night. So for Houston’s 13K establishments at $125 a night multiplied by five staff members over fifteen days, the total lost dollars is close to 122 million. These are hypothetical numbers for just a small mom and pop bar in the area. What about major restaurants in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City? The numbers are staggering.
“Holy shit. It really puts that $500,000 donation from Jameson and $1M donation from Diageo into perspective. I’m grateful that our industry is so supportive of its own, I really am. And I know brands and suppliers are doing all they can do to get through the obnoxious legalese necessary to do anything, but this isn’t something we can do alone. The tips lost by FOH is more than the GDP of Samoa. The real one, not even the American knockoff (I jest).” Chris urges this is a multi-billion-dollar problem and one that bartenders will need to be financially creative to get through.
“Yes, I’m aware many restaurants are now offering takeout, curbside, and delivery. It’s a band-aid over a gaping wound. I hope it provides enough for the staff to hold out. For many, it’s simply not possible. It certainly wasn’t for us, a new small independent without a dedicated following and years of relationships. Today, I go and pick up my check, turn in my key, and pack my tools. I then get to sit and hope I have a bar to return to in a few weeks … months?”
Within his bartending community, Chris notices a sense of dread and uncertainty as a lot of jobs in the hospitality field have disappeared overnight. To stay informed he encourages bartenders to take the time to read the many articulate posts on the subject of the sales impact and the effects on the restaurant and bar industry itself. He also wants to remind bartenders that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, so use this time wisely. “As we see in China, the trouble does subside, hopefully by early summer. Luckily for us, people are going to need a good, strong drink when all of this is over.”
That said, what can bartender’s do in the meantime? Megan McCoy, Kansas State University Director of the Personal Financial Planning Master’s Program, recently told CNBC that the first step involves “accepting that your life is going to be different for a while and focusing on tasks you can control.”
Since the virus is forcing everyone to virtually connect with one another, take advantage of online classes, services, tastings, videoconferences and even socially distant dinner parties. These are the kinds of social spaces we need to create now. One thing we know for sure is participating in online culture, or actually contributing to it, is capable of pulling us together. Bartenders need to use technology to their benefit now and not only as a distraction from the real world.
And while lengthy social media sessions may be unhealthy, digital face-to-face conversations can fill the void left by the inability to interact daily with bar patrons and offer you a chance to talk directly with friends.
At the same time remember to actively seek enjoyment. Catch up on reading, dive into some binge-watching, listen to your favorite podcasts (or use this time to find new ones), listen to music, practice a hobby—you name it. Health officials recommend actively seeking something fun so that you are not just keeping yourself busy, but occasionally enjoying your time at home.
Finally, don’t be too proud to ask for help. If you have needs, lean on your family and friends. If necessary (or possible), seek professional help. And, if financial situations seem scary, the National Consumer Law Center advises contacting your landlords and creditors as soon as possible and asking for hardship concessions. Many credit cards offer forgiveness plans, too.
“For me, I’m not sure if putting this crisis into real, tangible numbers makes me feel any more justified,” says Chris, “But if your favorite bartender seems a little distraught over the next few weeks, this is a little glimpse into why. We’ll all need a drink soon enough, A strong one. I look forward to being there to serve it.”