There are so many ways to pitch in.

By Tim Nelson
March 20, 2020
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As you’re no doubt realized by now, we’re in the beginning of what could be a historically bad time for bars and restaurants. The precipitous drop in revenue (even for restaurants who can still deliver) has and will continue to inspire widespread layoffs, given that the hospitality business model isn’t designed to withstand prolonged service disruptions. Even wildly successful establishments and well-known restaurateurs fear that the places we love to eat and drink will be long gone by the time Coronavirus is a thing of the past.

So what is to be done? Alex Stupak, chef and owner at New York restaurants like Empellón, makes a compelling case for significant financial assistance from the federal government. While some form of relief for restaurants and their employees is hopefully on the horizon, the government’s response to other facets of this crisis so far has made it clear that we can’t sit around and wait for help.

Luckily, fine folks from across the country have already put in a lot of legwork to make sure that restaurants and laid-off service workers can find a little bit of help in these scary, desperate times. What follows is a non-exhaustive list of organized efforts, as well as some additional advice to help you ensure the places where you eat and drink and the hard-working people who staff them can get by.

For those who want to do their part to keep a favorite restaurant or bar in business, Local for Later is an incredible resource. The site provides a comprehensive list of local bars and restaurants across 10 U.S. cities, including some of those hit the hardest by COVID-19 so far. Clicking on an establishment’s name takes you directly to the page on their site where you can purchase a gift card. Spending that money now will both help your local haunt pay their bills and effectively give you a free night out to look forward to once life returns to normal. Give Local, managed by USA Today, does something similar in an even broader set of locations.

If you’d rather focus on helping individual service workers, there are ample resources for that too. One Fair Wage, a group that advocates for the economic interests of tipped workers, has set up an emergency fund to help the servers, bartenders, delivery drivers, and other workers whose tips have disappeared as restaurants close their doors. The United States Bartender’s Guild’s Emergency Assistance Program and the Restaurant Opportunities Centers’ emergency relief fund are also great ways to help out.

If you want to also support workers in the similarly-decimated hotel, airline, and casino industries, Unite Here’s Education and Support Fund is a vital asset. This 300,000-strong labor group (which also includes food service workers) is hoping to raise money to help its laid-off or underworked members pay rent, buy food, and handle the other expenses that pile up at a time like this. You can even earmark your contribution to support members of a local Unite Here union chapter if you’d like to help out those closest to home.

If you just want to do some direct but digital person-to-person giving, recently-launched Serviceindustry.Tips is a great resource. You can choose a city from 12 states (and counting) plus Washington DC, and the site will automatically and randomly link you to the Venmo account of an underemployed or out of work service worker so you can give them a little cash. As tweets touting this donation platform suggest, consider tipping when you pour yourself a drink at home or cook dinner in solidarity with folks who can’t collect the tips they rely on through no fault of their own.

Beyond the options described above, you may want to check in on a favorite bar or restaurant directly. There’s a pretty good chance that they’ve set up some relief fund of their own, or can at least connect you with ways to help their staff. Check their social media accounts or website and you can be sure they’ll have info on how you can chip in to keep them afloat.

Even though so much of the world is shutting down, people still need to eat. That’s especially true for the laid-off and stressed out service workers waiting for their unemployment benefits to kick in. If your state or city still allows takeout or delivery orders, buy local and tip incredibly well—20 percent is the barest of bare minimums at a time like this. If you can’t do that, hopefully one of the options outlined above speaks to you. Our neighborhood baristas, bartenders, chefs, and wait staff have already given us so much. Now, it’s time to see how much we can give them.

This is a developing story. We will add more information as it becomes available.