Bartenders and the Pandemic

By Billy Gubrud. Created on May 5, 2020. Updated May 27, 2020. From Nightlife.

I’ve been lucky to be able to work within the LGBT community for 20 plus years. I started at the very young age of 25 years old. During this time I have gotten to know many people over the years that work within the community. I have featured three bartenders in this first installment about how they are handling the pandemic and their opinions on the future.

Jason, Mary’s Attic
How are you handling not being able to work during the pandemic?

Fortunately I got my unemployment squared away immediately, as money was my biggest concern. At first I kind of enjoyed the idea of having time off, but the longer we go, the more restless I’m becoming. I’m trying to keep busy with side projects like painting and practicing music, but I really miss the human interaction I experienced through my work behind the bar.

When do you think the bars will open?

I’m not sure. It’s hard to develop my own opinion or guess because there are so many conflicting reports in the media about the pandemic worldwide. I just hope the decision to reopen is made thoughtfully and without haste so we don’t end up back where we are or worse.

Do you think there will be new restrictions/regulations with social distancing and how you will be able to do your job?

I’m sure there will be restrictions and I’m not sure how that’ll bode for me and other bartenders. I’ve heard the restaurant associations are requiring tables be 6 feet apart, and if that’s true then bar seating will have to be as well and both will significantly reduce mine and the restaurants ability to make money.

Are you concerned about the near future regarding how bartending will be and social distancing?

Of course I am, everyone should be. I think this is unfortunately going to change many aspects of our lives. Bars and restaurants will likely have reduced occupancy; people are going to be even more cautious about touching each other, if at all. Walking down the street and having everyone scatter as you pass is disheartening and isolating, and the nightlife is such a face-to-face, shoulder-to-shoulder experience, that I just can’t feasibly see it being the same or even close for a long time.

Do you think you will be able to make the same wage when things open up as you did right before the pandemic?

Probably not. The restrictions that businesses face upon reopen are going to have an impact on sales which will trickle down to effecting wages for the employees. I think people will be generous for bartenders and servers knowing what we’ve gone through while shut down, but if you aren’t getting scheduled enough hours or making enough tips because there’s just not enough people in the door, there’s not much you can do. I’m sure things will work out in the end, they always do, but this unprecedented time will likely continue to affect us for a while.

Ronald, Splash
How are you handling not being able to work during the pandemic?

This has been very interesting to say the least. The first week was scary and exiting at the same time. I was excited to have a ton of free time, yet I was afraid because of the unknown. Not knowing what this Virus really was, not knowing if I was going to be able to survive financially, and above all not knowing how the Virus would affect my health. The second week I realized that work gave me not only something to do, but a purpose as well. For bartenders our daily lives revolve around our work. Our entire day is planned out with so that we can accomplish goals (or sleep all day) before our shift starts. Personally, I have also realized that about 80% of my social interactions revolve around work. I hang out with friends at work, make plans at work, and meet new people almost daily. It has helped me to see who my “true friends” are. On a positive note, not working has taught me that I truly enjoy this career path that I have chosen. I am lucky to be able to work in an environment that I consider fun and exciting, while also being able to be my true self.

When do you think the bars will open?

From everything that I have read it seems like we won’t be getting back to work until July. If they decide to utilize the phasing program, we won’t be even considered for open for another 24 weeks (for 5/1/20). Sadly, I don’t think that bars will fully be back to “normal” for another year or two. There are too many risks associated with the space and size of all venues. If we will have to truly social distance bars and clubs will be the last places to recover. Now I am forced to ask myself the question “do I stay or do I go”. Meaning I will have to make a very difficult decision of whether or not to stick out the tough slow times or move on an find another career. I have been in the industry for over 10 years and that kind of decision will not come easy. But who knows what things will change 1-6 months from now.

Do you think there will be new restrictions/regulations with social distancing and how you will be able to do your job?

I believe that having to social distance will ruin quite a bit. From the customer’s standpoint, they will not have the same experience. Having to stay away from each other (even friends) will make going out less fun and eventful. Being forced to wear gloves and masks will also create nervousness and caution among both customers and employees. As a bartender, we will no longer be able create the fun and uplifting environment that customers seek. I say this because I believe that people go to bars for an escape. Many of the people I interact will divulge tons of personal information to me. This is due to the close and intimate setting that we are in. By requiring space and PPE (personal protection equipment) these interaction will quite possibly become obsolete. These best that we can do is make people feel welcome and appreciated. Any good business owner knows that without a doubt a happy customer is a loyal customer, and loyalty to a brand is what keeps the lights on.

Are you concerned about the near future regarding how bartending will be and social distancing?

I’ve touched on this throughout my responses. But the simple answer is YES. First of all, businesses will not be able to hire back their full staff. The guaranteed loss of income due to occupancy restrictions automatically will instantly cause a major loss of revenue. As bartends we rely on tips, and obviously if there are no customers, we won’t get paid. We also have to realize that many people outside of the service industry are also out of work. At a time when income is not guaranteed, it’s very hard to spend money frivolously. Many places will have no choice but to close down or sell their business. The combination of terminations, occupancy restrictions, and business’ closing then creates new issues. People are out of work, bars that survive can’t supply adequate space for the amount of customers that not only previously patronized their business, but also for new customers who can no longer go to the closed bars. Just thinking about that stressing me out!

Do you think you will be able to make the same wage when things open up as you did right before the pandemic?
In short I know that is not realistic. I am hoping that this will force business' to increase our hourly wage to compensate for the loss. With all of the new restrictions it just isn't even possible to make a living as a bartender.

All that we can do is continuously adapt as we learn more about the virus. No one can confidently say where we will be a year from now, but I hope that we get some answers sooner than later. For now I'll stay positive and make the best Lemonade I can! Haha

Robb S., Progress
How are you handling not being able to work during the pandemic?

I’m going insane, you go from working daily or nightly meeting tons of different people building friendships with locals and visitors from all over one day to literally not even having to get out of bed and get dressed and interact with people the next. It's like your whole world gets flipped upside down and you almost feel lost or feel like you're missing something.

When do you think the bars will open?

Honestly, I couldn't even give an assumption, it can open tomorrow or in a few months but regardless of when, it will not be the same for sometime, if at all!

Do you think there will be new restrictions/regulations with social distancing and how you will be able to do your job?

I definitely believe there will be a lot of changes, capacity limits will be cut in half if not more, going for a drink with a friend or just to get out and vent on a rough day will seem almost unobtainable if you're having to shout halfway across a room. Not to mention as a bartender handling drink garnishes and money constantly if having to wear gloves become the new normal, we will be seeing a lot of trash increase due to having to constantly change gloves after every single drink u garnish just to take payment then change them again after payment to make the next drink.

Are you concerned about the near future regarding how bartending will be and social distancing?

Yes, as a bartender, not only are you there to serve someone, you also at times become someone's ear to vent to, someone's therapist to maybe give insight or input on something they're dealing with, someone to just help them turn their day around for the better. With social distancing, people aren't going to want to tell the whole bar about something personal, which in turn not having that unbiased opinion of someone may leave that person feeling alone even more.

Do you think you will be able to make the same wage when things open up as you did right before the pandemic?

In the beginning, absolutely not, however, as time goes by I do believe eventually it will get back up there. One can only hope.