Group donates $9.5 million to keep America’s bartenders pouring

Posted at 7:58 AM, Oct 27, 2020

Nashville, Tennessee, is known for serving up entertainment and alcohol.

“You’re thinking you’re coming here to see mountains, no,” said Reggie Small, general manager of Tailgate Brewery Music Row. “In Nashville, you’re eating and drinking and having a good time."

Bartenders like Small are having a tough time making tips like they used to.

“You’re used to that everyday paycheck, everyday money from your day shift to the end of the night,” he said. “But without having that, your savings are going to run out sooner or later.”

When the COVID-19 crisis first hit, Small had to cut his staff to managers only. Fewer customers bellying up to the bar meant sales started to slip, not only in Nashville, but across the country.

“It’s devastating everywhere,” said Aaron Gregory Smith of the United States Bartenders’ Guild. “And the hardest thing is just not knowing what is going to happen next week or next month.”

Smith and his team recently started the Bartender Emergency Assistance Program COVID-19 Relief Campaign, giving away nearly $9.5 million to more than 32,00 bartenders across America.

“We feel pretty good about getting money into hands of people who pretty much overnight lost their jobs, lost their income,” Smith said.

The money comes from a combination of alcohol suppliers and individual donors. To get the money, bartenders needed to fill out an application and they’re selected based on need.

That money, however, recently ran out. The US Bartenders’ Guild is now looking for more fundraising and government assistance.

“It’s hard to watch a community, an industry that I’ve been part of going on 25 years now, going through the really most catastrophic shift that we’ve been through since prohibition,” Smith said.

For bartenders like Small, he’s adjusting to keep his staff making money as the winter months move in and outdoor dining becomes less of an option.

“Not having job security is really, really stressful on people,” he said. “I’ve seen it been a struggle for a lot of people in the profession just because of the everyday unknown.”