Creative bartenders head online to raise funds during coronavirus lockdown

30 March, 2020

Digital happy hours, online mixology sessions and virtual tip jars are helping bartenders make ends meet amid the coronavirus lockdown. 

Bartenders in Corpus Christi, Texas, are taking it in turns to host virtual shifts on Facebook Live. Amado Luis Contreras, a manager at Executive Surf Club, can assign admin status of a dedicated Facebook group to local bartenders and provide instructions about how to tend a virtual bar. “We have bartenders lined up to teach mixology, talk beer, or just listen to problems,” said Contreras.

Josh Fraedrick, Mike Cantu, Hannah Berger, Sharee Murski and Sky Rose Shook earned more than $1,500 in three nights. “I’ve heard from a couple of the bartenders after their shifts and they made some good money for an hour of Facebook live,” said Meredith Darden at Visit Corpus Christi.

Chris Scensny, who works at 2 West Bar & Grille in Saratoga Springs, New York, usually makes $1,200 a week, but that has dried up due to the coronavirus lockdown. He floated the idea of virtual cocktail making classes online, asking people to Venmo him $6. Scensny promised to listen to walk people through the cocktail making process and then listen to their problems while they drink it.

“It started off as a joke,” he said. “I didn’t think 30,000 people were actually going to like and share this. People were actually sending $6. Some were $10, $20, $50.”

He made $1,500 in two days. The people donating did not even ask for a vitual class. “These people that are actually Venmoing me the money, they just said they wanted to help me out.”

The Southwest Virginia Virtual Tip Jar has already collected $7,415 from customers that want to support bartenders and coffee roasters while they are out of work. Workers receive a $15 welcome tip when they sign up, and the entire list is equitably tipped going forwards.

It is one of many virtual tip jars that have sprung up across the US. “You click on it, add your name to it and where you work, and if you’re a regular at Shenanigans and there’s a server you know by name that does a great job, you can send that person 10 bucks or whatever,” said Andy Rose, who manages Shenanigans in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. “It’s a really nice thing for people who need it.”

Beer brand Miller Lite made the sensible decision to pull a TV ad slot encouraging groups of friends to get together and enjoy a beer when the coronavirus pandemic gripped. Instead, brand owner Molson Coors decided to work the United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) to set up a nationwide virtual tip jar for bartenders, and kicked things off by putting $1 million into it.

“The closure of bars, restaurants, and venues means that these vital members of our community are no longer able to earn wages and take home tips,” said USBG in a statement. “It is imperative that we as an inclusive, amazing, extended beverage industry community, make sure that our bartenders can go back to serving drinks once all of this is over.”
Hollywood star Ryan Reynolds is also donating 30% of online Aviation gin sales to the USBG. Bacardi launched a $3 million global fund last week to provide relief for bartenders, while Diageo donated £1 million to help pay the wages of British bartenders when the lockdown was first announced. Pernod Ricard’s Irish whiskey brand Jameson also pledged $500,000 to help bartenders in the US.

President Donald Trump on Friday signed the $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus bill, putting in motion desperately needed financial relief for millions of Americans set back by the pandemic. Trump signed the bill just hours after the House passed it in a bipartisan vote.

The bill is designed to provide billions of dollars in relief for struggling industries, a significant boost to unemployment insurance and direct cash payments to Americans, many of whom have been financially devastated by the outbreak.

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