As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to pose an existential threat to the livelihoods of many in the bar industry, the United States Bartender Guild (USBG) is on the vanguard of the relief effort. The organization’s affiliated charity arm, the USBG Foundation (USBGF), is driving one of the industry’s most high profile grant efforts.
Neat Pour spoke with Kim Haasarud, USBG Vice President and USBG Foundation Board Member, about the ongoing effort to provide some relief.
We’ve heard a lot about the USBG Foundation grants. Can you provide some background?
Under the USBG Foundation, we’ve had lots of educational programs, wellspring trips and two different grant funds. The Helen David Relief Fund (created by Tony Abou-Ganim) which gives grants to bartenders going through Breast Cancer treatments. The second fund is BEAP (Bartender Emergency Assistance Program). BEAP has been giving emergency assistance for everything from injuries and accidents on the job to catastrophic events like Hurricane Harvey, Nashville Tornado, the many wildfires in California to name just a few.
Our grants are for emergency assistance; they’re not intended to make someone whole, rather, give some cushion or breathing room to applicants to help out with their bills, groceries, off-set their rent, etc. while they figure out their next steps.
But, the pandemic changed that?
When a “normal” tragedy happens (as awful as that sounds), there are mechanisms and contingencies in place to deal with that, like insurance. On top of that, there are other places to go find work, like the restaurant or bar down the street. This is different as there is no restaurant down the street to go and apply to nor are their contingencies for workers or even owners. This isn’t something anyone could have planned for.
So, the BEAP grants program is one way to help.
Who is eligible?
Basically, one has to have been a service employee for one full year with their primary function being “serving alcohol”. So, bartenders, beertenders, bar backs, cocktail servers, bar managers would be eligible if that fits their job description. [Application here.]
Can you share details about the applications you have received and the difference now?
Normally, our application process was very manual, as we spent a lot of time going back and forth with the applicant, getting details, trying to better understand their predicament. With the massive influx of applications we have received (over 200k), we’ve had to massively upgrade our technology, volunteer workforce and processes. I’m happy to say that we are firing on all cylinders.
While our USBG community contains quite a few craft bartenders, the majority of our applicants are everyday bartenders from all walks of life in every corner of the country and all ages—ranging from the 30-year vet bartender working at their local VW to golf course bartenders to beertenders to chain restaurant bartenders, like Olive Garden or Buffalo Wild Wings to the craft cocktail bar. Everyone.
Can you share details of your application process?
We have three different application phases before an approval.
Phase One – Application is just checked for eligibility. Incomplete & ineligible applications are denied or asked to re-apply with more information. (We have a team of a few hundred volunteers helping us with this phase.)
Phase Two – Application is vetted and need is assessed.
Phase Three – Applications are approved. Application vetters and approvers are trusted individuals and leaders in our bar industry community.
How much are the grants for?
$150-500 based on need.
When do you think that checks will go out?
Our goal is a four to five week turnaround. We’re actually little bit ahead of schedule and looking to send out our first round of prioritized applicants (the ones who most need it) early April
It seems like the fund has received lots of donations?
Yes and No. Currently we have about $5 million confirmed and pledged. We are super grateful for those brands and companies that have stepped forward and helped support our Foundation. But, there have been some broad announcements from various brands announcing a large number going to several organizations; we may be a smaller piece of that, not the entire amount. So some people have assumed we have way more in donations than we actually have. Also, with some companies, the process can take a little longer before we actually have those funds hand.
Can you put those numbers in perspective?
According to the US Bureau of Labor & Statistics, there are just under 700,000 people that are employed as bartenders in the US—excluding barbacks, cocktail servers, etc. If we were to be conservative and give everyone just a decent shift pay, about $150, that would be 100 million dollars!
Is the USBG Foundation doing anything beyond grants?
Yes, in addition to resources, we’re also mobilizing on a local level with our chapters. Many of them are working with local charities and doing initiatives such as furloughed kitchens and connecting people to each other.
We are launching a gift card initiative, where companies and suppliers can donate gift cards in bulk, where we, in turn, can include that as part of our grant process for food assistance. Applicants will be able to “opt in” to this assistance during Phase Two of the application process. As of now, we are only working with National Accounts as it’s easy for an applicant to find one of those restaurants in their area. Hope to scale up in a few weeks where we could do this on a more localized level, but we’re not there yet.
We are also launching a Health & Wellness platform that anyone can have access to that will include workshops, panels, classes in three different buckets – Mental Health, Financial Health and Physical Health. More on that soon!
Where do you foresee the industry going after that?
The fear is that eventually when these restaurants and bars reopen it’s not going to be everyone back to work and business as usual. Many of their workforce may have moved on to other jobs and the bar or restaurant may have to treat opening again like a brand new open which means more training, new people. And that’s for those that do re-open. Some employees may not come back because the science community is saying this [novel coronavirus] is cyclical. It might subside in the summer and pick back up when it gets colder again. There is that fear as well—for both bar owners and employees also… It’s not going to be an easy recovery.
The one beacon of light—traditionally, the bar industry has always been ‘recession proof” and that’s because bartenders and bars can provide a sense of belonging and community over a drink. During times of crisis, people want to go to bars because they’re looking for a sense of community and togetherness… If the staff is excellent, and bartenders do what they do best – connecting- they will survive and people will be bursting down the door to get back in.
That’s why hospitality is more important than ever—when you’re training staff or building a bar’s culture. Community keeps people coming back.