A Financial Plan of Action for Out-of-Work Bar Staff

Spencer Platt/Getty
Spencer Platt/Getty

Huge numbers of hospitality workers across the country have been laid off because of bar and restaurant closures due to the coronavirus. And it’s only expected to get worse as the virus spreads and continued mandatory closings put millions of American hospitality jobs at risk.

If you have been laid off from a restaurant or bar, a number of new emergency relief funds are now available to offer financial assistance. We gathered information on them, as well as expert tips on how to get personal finances in order during this time.

We will continue to update this story as more organizations and nonprofits launch emergency relief funds for those affected by COVID-19.


If you’ve been let go from your job, the first step is to find out if you’re eligible for unemployment insurance through your state government, and apply as soon as possible. Keep in mind, though, that the sharp increase in those applying for aid over the past few weeks has caused some hiccups, including delays in processing. Georgina Muri, a Level 3 Trainer at Financial Gym, witnessed this herself. Her boyfriend, who lost his job as a bartender in New York, tried for three days before his application finally went through.

Some states, including New York, have waived the waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits, which is generally standard. “You will get a check for that first week you were out of work, as well as many other subsequent weeks that you were out of work, so that’s a little extra money coming in there,” says Muri. Once your application is accepted, it will take two to three weeks for the first check to arrive.

Anyone looking to make extra money to supplement unemployment insurance benefits should be aware that it is legally required to declare that income. If you make more than the maximum threshold, which varies from state to state, your unemployment will be discontinued. “Make sure that’s going to be beneficial [in the] bigger picture than what you would get from unemployment,” she says. “That’s a big question to ask. It’s not going to be worth it for a lot of people.”

You should also find out if you’re eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits from your state. If you are deemed eligible, you’ll receive funds to buy groceries each month.

Women or parents may also qualify for other federal or state food assistance programs, including Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) or one of the programs providing free or reduced-price meals to school-age kids. Learn more about your options here.

The current state of crisis surrounding the industry requires additional federal aid to support workers and bars and restaurants across the country impacted by COVID-19. Congress has yet to grant additional aid, but the National Restaurant Association has put together a $145 billion restaurant recovery plan that aims to provide support in the form of unemployment assistance, loans and lost revenue coverage to individuals and businesses.


While bartenders are being forced to navigate this new reality, organizations and companies have already begun to rally, taking steps to make additional emergency support available.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States announced that its member companies will collectively donate $8.7 million to relief causes, including the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild Foundation’s Bartender Emergency Assistance Program (BEAP), launched as a direct result of coronavirus hardships. The program has also received sizable contributions from Jameson Irish Whiskey, Beam Suntory and Molson Coors, among others. Grants through BEAP are available to all bar workers, as well as their spouses and children, across the country. Applicants don’t need to be members of USBG to receive a BEAP grant, but they must satisfy all of its requirements.

In response to the pandemic, the nonprofit James Beard Foundation (JBF) also launched its Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund with $1,425,000 from founding donors S. Pellegrino and the Patrón Spirits Company, and has since garnered additional funding from Oatly and White Claw. It plans to provide micro-grants to food and drink establishments in need.

Both BEAP and the JBF Relief Fund, however, are new and still under development, so it will take time to distribute funds. Apply for BEAP here and sign up to receive more information on how to apply for a JBF micro-grants here. Bartenders can also find additional aid resources through the USBG website for aid on the national and state and local levels.

Bartenders looking for additional financial relief can look to the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation (RWCF), which launched its COVID-19 Crisis Relief Fund. Half of the funds raised by the nonprofit, including donations from DISCUS member companies and the Bernie Sanders campaign, will serve as direct relief for individual workers by going to Southern Smoke Foundation’s Emergency Relief Fund, which was launched in 2017 and has the existing infrastructure to support the kind of aid restaurant and bar workers need right now. Southern Smoke Foundation has also received $50,000 from Angel’s Envy and was one of the beneficiaries of Tito’s Vodka’s $1 million relief donation.

The other half of RWCF donations will be split between nonprofits serving restaurant workers and zero-interest loans for small businesses. Brown-Forman, which also donated to USBG and local organization One Louisville, will be matching RWCF donations up to $100,000.

“The Southern Smoke team has been working around-the-clock screening applications, so we can start funding as quickly as possible,” said Southern Smoke founder Chris Shepherd in a statement. “In fact, our first applicants were granted funds at the end of last week, and we hope to be making daily payments moving forward. We know how critical the situation is, and we know so many in our industry can’t sustain for more than a few days without a paycheck.”

Both restaurant workers and bartenders can apply for a direct grant from the Southern Smoke Foundation here. Undocumented workers in Manhattan or Brooklyn, can also apply for a $150 mini-grant through RAISE NYC’s Undocu Workers Fund that’s distributed through Venmo.

Additionally, support is available through The Giving Kitchen and a number of other resources that can be found through the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United.

In an effort to offer aid directly to restaurant workers, restaurateur and television personality Guy Fieri partnered with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation to launch the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund. The fund will be distributing $500 grants beginning in April to applicants who have experienced job loss or a significant decrease in wages since March 10. All donations made to the fund will go directly to grants. Those interested in applying can find out more about eligibility requirements and apply for aid starting Thursday, April 2.

On March 25, The Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF) launched its SOBEWFF & FIU Chaplin School Hospitality Industry Relief Fund, which is making relief funds immediately available to restaurants and bars in Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties impacted by COVID-19. Half of its initial $1 million in funding comes from Florida International University's (FIU) Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management, and the remainder includes donations from Bacardi USA, Badia Spices, Luxco, Mast-Jägermeister US, Shaw-Ross International Importers and Voli 305 Vodka.

Initially, the grants will be awarded to independently owned and operated restaurants and bars that have participated in SOBEWFF within the past five years so they can continue to pay staff. Those who qualify can apply for a grant at SOBEWFF. Grant recipients will also receive access to FIU Chaplin School resources, including a one-year membership to StartUP FIU Food's Entrepreneurs Educational Development program, which offers marketing and finance training.


Making sure out-of-work restaurant and bar workers have their basic food needs met is a major problem. That’s why chef Edward Lee and Lindsey Ofcacek, co-founders of The Lee Initiative, partnered with Maker’s Mark to launch The Restaurant Workers Relief Program. The organization will provide food assistance to jobless industry workers in Louisville, Kentucky, (the Lee Initiative’s home base), as well as in Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Seattle, Cincinnati, Brooklyn, Denver, Chicago, Atlanta, Lexington, Boston, San Francisco and New Orleans. In each of these cities, the initiative will turn a local restaurant—including 610 Magnolia in Louisville and Olmstead in Brooklyn—into a relief center, distributing to-go meals, food and supplies to any restaurant or bar workers in need.

Mattress Mack in Houston is also giving away free meals to those in need. Not in one of these cities? Search for a food bank near you at Feeding America.


Without an idea of how long shelter at home and social distancing mandates will last, it’s a good idea to get your landlord and essential service providers on the phone to explain your situation—even if you’re having to sit through long hold periods to reach a representative.

“What I’ve had folks do is really look at their budgeting and their expenses and bills and say, what are the absolute requirements. What do I absolutely have to pay right now and how long can I pay it for given any kind of assistance I’m receiving and savings that I have,” says Muri. “That would be things like rent or utilities.”

If you expect to struggle to make rent and pay bills while waiting for unemployment insurance or additional financial help to come through, explain your situation and offer to pay your rent in installments and request that utility, cell service and internet providers waive late fees.

“We’re asking for people to spend a lot of time on the phone or the internet asking for support,” she says. “As of right now, there really is no way around that, unfortunately.”


Financial Gym is also recommending that those out of work do everything they can to manage credit card expenditures and fees.

“The first thing is for people who are paying extra on their credit cards right now, just pay the minimum,” says Muri. “You can call [your credit card companies] to ask for a lower payment and you can ask for a lower APR. The majority have put out statements on their website about how they’re flexible to work with people on a case-by-case basis who are affected by coronavirus related closures to make it workable for them.”

Ultimately, these companies want to get paid, so if you make the time to call and explain your situation, Muri says there’s a greater likelihood they’ll be flexible.

She also recommends disconnecting credit and debit cards from places you’re likely to overspend, including your internet browser, Paypal and Amazon. If you do use services like Amazon for essential items, look into the Allowance feature, which allows you to more strictly manage your budget.

“Make it so that you have to get up and cross the room and go find your wallet and put in your card number,” she says. That way “you’re going to have that moment of thinking, ‘Oh, do I really want to do this, or would I rather just stay here on the couch?’”

Muri also recommends being aware of the current situation with student loan debt interest and the option for a short-term suspension. The Trump administration automatically waived student loan interest for federal loans for 60 days, as of March 13, so you won’t have to make a call to take advantage of this. That means, during this time, your payment (still required) will go solely to the principal balance of your loan.

“There is [also] an opportunity—for federal student loans only—for forbearance for a 60-day period,” says Muri. “Forbearance, means no payments for that period of time. Typically in forbearance loans continue to accrue interest and then at the end of the forbearance period, that interest gets added back into the principal but without the interest payments right now, this forbearance becomes a lot easier.”

While there is no penalty to suspend your payment through forbearance currently, you will have to call your loan servicer to make the request.


“For those people who are really struggling right now, you really have to put your own oxygen mask on first,” says Muri.

While it’s understandable to want to support family members and others in the industry, be sure your own immediate and short-term needs are taken care of first.

“Once your oxygen mask is on, then we can sustainably say to other people, ‘Hey, I’m here to help and support you in a way that I know that I can maintain for a longer period of time,’” she says. “The last thing you want to do is be helping, helping, helping and then realize that you can’t pay your own rent.”

To make this easier, Muri suggests figuring out what aid is available, when it’s available, and how much of that—in combination with savings—should first be used to cover rent, food, utilities and other essentials like phone and Internet service. Take only what you need from your savings each month.

“Having a really structured plan in place where you know what your numbers are and then you’re paying yourself a paycheck, whether that’s weekly, biweekly, or monthly,” says Muri. “This way [you] can kind of control where your money is going and how fast it’s going,” rather than pulling it out in small increments. “It really runs out very quickly if you do it that way.”

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