With bar industry sidelined, bartenders turn to national nonprofit for financial help

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — With the bar industry sidelined during the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of unemployed and underemployed bartenders are turning to an industry support group for financial help.

Bartending has been Kevin O’Tormey’s life for the past 40 years. But these days, he’s only able to pick up a shift here and there, serving takeout food and beer at the Trappe Tavern in Montgomery County. 

The lockdown has forced him to file for unemployment for the first time.

“I got a wife, I got a mortgage. I’m in the same boat as just about everybody else. I mean I know a lot of people work from home but in our industry, you can’t. If I worked from home, I’d be hammered every day,” O’Tormey said. 

Miller Reed has been a friendly face for years at McCrossen’s and Bar Hygge in Fairmount. Lately, he’s been able to make a few bucks by posting his mixology skills on Facebook.

“Doing a little bit of drink instruction. I’ve been getting compensated through that via Philadelphia Tip Jar and just my own personal Venmo account,” he added.

While many bartenders are filing for unemployment, some are also attempting to tap in to the United States Bartenders Guild Foundation

Vice President Kim Haasarud said they’ve already received around 200,000 applications for grant money.

“So our grants will range anywhere from $150 to $500, based on need,” Haasarud said. 

USBG typically handles a dozen grant applications per quarter.

The foundation's funding comes largely from corporate donations. Kris Boros, co-founder of Sip Science, a hospitality start-up firm that analyzes hospitality industry data, just launched a GoFundme campaign for the USBG Foundation.

“Our goal is to hit $100,000 and we’re at about $10,000 right now. We are going to shift those funds as we go so we’re going to send that $10,000 over to them right away and we’re gonna keep raising money and keep shuffling that money back over to the foundation,” Boros said.