We used to joke during the depths of the Great Recession that bartending is a recession-proof career: People drink when they’re happy and they drink away their troubles. Well, bartending may be recession-proof, but it’s not pandemic-proof.
Nearly half a million Michigan restaurant employees — 10 percent of the state’s workforce – have been hanging on by their fingernails for eight months now. While Congress dithered and golfed and stimulus checks dried up, the people who work in food service have been left to figure it out on their own. Some waited more than three months for their first unemployment claims to go through; some are still waiting.
They’ve pivoted from full-service to carryout-only, to outdoor dining, and back to carryout. They’ve switched schedules, cut corners, and cut hours. In some cases, they’ve gotten sick working to pay their rent. And it’s about to get worse.
No one really expects metro Detroit restaurants to magically go back to normal after the three-week closures end on Tuesday, December 8. The extension of unemployment benefits is about to expire if Michigan’s legislature doesn’t act. For hospitality professionals, there’s a some amount of uncertainty baked into the job. Servers and bartenders know how to budget for rainy days, slow nights, and lousy tips. But nothing like this. This is 38 weeks of rainy days and the storm is picking up speed.
There is very little individuals can do in the face of utter failure at a leadership level, beyond imploring legislators to pass a new stimulus package and bail out the restaurant industry. However, there is one big thing you can do today, if you have the means: Tonight is traditionally considered the biggest bar night of the year, but for obvious reasons, most of our favorite watering holes and restaurants are on hiatus right now or doing carryout or delivery only. They may even be permanently closed. So, in lieu of partying with friends and family ahead of Thanksgiving, fInd your favorite restaurant employee and tip them. Venmo, Paypal, Cash App, Apple Pay, Square — you name it, they’ve probably got it. Even better is cold hard cash — yes, cash is still king for workers who rely on tips to earn a living.
Don’t bother buying anything, if you don’t need anything. Just tip them. You probably owe them for having been rude or forgotten to pay your tab or been demanding, or because they always remembered your order and asked about your dog. They’ve taken care of you, it’s time to show some small gestures of gratitude.
Here are a few ways you can do that:
- Drive up to your favorite restaurant. Order carryout, or don’t even bother. Hand them an envelope full of cash and tell them you’re grateful for them.
- Use this tool, developed by Nick Britsky, to find your favorite professional’s payment apps.
- Text or Facebook message an industry worker and ask them how you can pay them. Do that.
Give them money and do it soon. They need it.
Mickey Lyons is a freelance writer, bartender, and all around bar enthusiast who is tipping hospitality workers on Wednesday, November 25.