With restaurants and bars shutting down across the United States to stop the Wuhan coronavirus shutting from increasing its footprint in the country, America’s service culture is moving online. Consumers who frequent their favorite restaurants and bars can now tip their out-of-work waiters, and favorite bar staff and even total strangers, via virtual tip jars.
These virtual tip jars which are essentially giant, city-by-city Google spreadsheets contain more than 10,000 former employees’ names, restaurants, and links to their favored payment app.
According to those at the receiving end, help in the form of tips are coming in from all sides, including from friends, regulars, and even random well-wishers.
“It’s not income replacement, but the gestures are incredibly heart-warming,” said Deke Dunne, a Washington, D.C. bar manager who has gotten “tips” ranging from $3 to $33. “Even if it’s just a couple of dollars, the gesture alone can help raise somebody’s spirits. Every little bit counts.”
According to Ana Owens, a 30-year-old reproductive rights activist based out of Washington, the idea of an online tip jar came to her after her girlfriend, a bartender, saw her tips dry up in the days before authorities ordered Washington’s restaurants and bars shut last week.
Like-minded people have set up their own versions in cities such as Houston, Austin, and Baltimore, and even places further afield including West Virginia, Des Moines, Cabell County and Iowa.
Efforts are also being championed via online fundraising platforms including GoFundMe, which is full of restaurants, theaters, and other venues raising money to stay afloat and celebrity-led campaigns to raise money for charities.
Owens did not want money to go directly to restaurants or bars, which potentially may not channel the cash fairly, and she was also daunted by the idea of managing donations herself.
“So we came up with this idea of just letting people donate to servers and bartenders directly,” said Owens.
Gabby Weiss, a 26-year-old software marketer, is one of those using the tip jar spreadsheet to keep paying her local bartenders.
“I just wanted to make sure that they’re able to get through this,” said Weiss. “I have a job that I can work from home. I can still earn a salary and I know that’s not the case for everyone.”
According to the National Employment Law Project, U.S. service workers get most of their money from tips. Unlike most other advanced economies U.S. health insurance plans are tied to their employment.
With bars and restaurants shutting down indefinitely across the U.S. in response to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, tens of thousands are suddenly finding themselves with no income and no health care.
“For me, it’s not even heartwarming. It’s a necessity for survival,” said Rebecca Gorena, a 29-year-old program director who created the Austin tip jar shortly after Owens launched hers.
A government bailout looms on the horizon, but Gorena said laid-off workers could not wait.
“It’s our responsibility to take care of them when our government’s not,” she said.