The coronavirus crisis has left bartenders in New York City ‘freaking out’ after their earnings plummeted to zero, after previously making up to $550 a night in tips.
Thousands of bartenders have been let go after the decision by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to shutter the city’s bars and restaurants to stop the spread of the disease.
With no sick pay, no vacation pay and no health insurance, several are rushing to sign up for unemployment benefits, which are a fraction of what they normally earn.
Despite the glamorous illusion of the job, most bartenders earn just $10 an hour as a basic wage and rely on tips to make a living salary. Most live paycheck to paycheck and with no money coming in, a majority of bartenders fear being evicted because they can’t pay their rent.
In New York City, the nightlife industry makes $35 billion in annual revenue and supports about 300,000 workers.
BROOKLYN: Thousands of bartenders have been let go after the decision by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to shutter the city’s bars and restaurants to stop the spread of the disease. Pictured: A shuttered bar in Brooklyn
Now with several out of a job, there’s been a spreadsheet set up where patrons can tip their favorite bartender, even though no drinks are being made. Even whiskey maker Jameson donated $500,000 to the Bartender’s Guild for emergency grants to support its members.
On Tuesday, Trump’s administration addressed workers who rely heavily on tips, saying the White House is reviewing plans to give every American at least $1,000 within two weeks.
But until financial relief comes through, many are anxious about how they will make it through the month. DailyMail.com spoke with bartenders in the city to see how they are coping during the shutdown.
Jenny Makholm: From making up to $550 a night in tips to $0 and savings wiped by May
Bartenders are ‘freaking out’ in New York City after the city shut down bars due to the coronavirus crisis. DailyMail.com spoke with several bartenders to see how they are coping during the shutdown. Jenny Makholm, 37, (pictured) said on a busy weekend night she’d make $550 in tips, but now has no income and will burn through her savings by the end of April
Jenny Makholm said that on a busy weekend night at Broken Land in Greenpoint, Brooklyn she would make $550 in tips, although that meant getting home at 7am after an exhausting shift with hundreds of patrons.
Makholm, 37, said that last Saturday there were just seven customers in and that she and the staffers were ‘constantly cleaning all the surfaces’.
Makholm said they were ‘terrified of one customer not giving a f***’ and spreading the coronavirus.
Since the bars have closed Makholm said that ‘money is my biggest concern’ and is worried about making her $1,700 a month rent.
For a lot of us we’re hit hard, most of us live paycheck to paycheck, most of us rely on cash tips for our income. People can’t feed themselves.
She has $1,800 in savings – which is more than most in her industry – and $300 in her checking account.
Makholm gets $800 a month workers compensation from an injury to her hands but even then she is scared of being evicted.
She said: ‘I’m in a far more privileged financial circumstance than most of my fellow service workers for multiple reasons: I have savings, I’m on the books, my tips are accurately recorded, and I have a worker’s compensation check that comes regardless of anything else twice a month.
‘Even with all of those benefits, my savings will be completely gone by the end of April’.
Makholm, who has been bartending for 16 years, said it was ‘terrifying and disorienting for all of us’.
She tried to apply for unemployment benefits but the website malfunctioned under the strain.
She said: ‘I kind of mentally prepared about two weeks ago, I was following the news when it was just in China. I was worrying before other people were worrying.
‘For a lot of us we’re hit hard, most of us live paycheck to paycheck, most of us rely on cash tips for our income. People can’t feed themselves’.
GREENPOINT, BROOKLYN: Makholm said that on a busy weekend night at Broken Land in Greenpoint (pictured), Brooklyn she would make $550 in tips, although that meant getting home at 7am after an exhausting shift with hundreds of patrons
Anne Robinson: Applying for unemployment after working at a upscale bar co-owned by Robert De Niro
Until Monday, Anne Robinson worked as head bartender at Locanda Verde, an upscale Italian bar at the Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca, which is part owned by Robert De Niro.
Patrons were a mixture of wealthy hotel guests, locals and bank workers, and she could earn up to $300 a night in tips. On a good week, she would take home $1,200 before tax.
Then the order came down to shut the bars and Robinson was laid off.
Anne Robinson (pictured) said: ‘I guess rent would be the biggest worry… I think it’s the not knowing and wondering how long it will go on’
TRIBECA: Until Monday, Robinson worked as head bartender at Locanda Verde (pictured), an upscale Italian bar at the Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca, which is part owned by Robert De Niro
Now she is applying for unemployment benefits, which amounts to just $500 a month.
She and her boyfriend will have to pool their unemployment checks to pay their $2,400 a month rent.
Robinson said: ‘At the moment the biggest issue is getting the unemployment benefit website to work so I can have some income.
‘I guess rent would be the biggest worry although I think I have enough savings to keep us hanging in there for a while. I think it’s the not knowing and wondering how long it will go on.
‘If it’s more than two or three months I’m not even letting myself think about it’.
Robinson, 35, said that most of her friends in the bar industry are ‘freaking out’. She said: ‘I think people still have hope but it’s only day one’.
Max Green: Negotiating rent so he doesn’t lose his bar but is more upset he can’t visit his sick mother in case he spreads coronavirus
Max Green has turned to organizing to help keep himself busy during the shutdown.
He has been working with colleagues to take over bar spaces that are closed to make meal plans for people without income.
He is also looking to help bar backs, dish washers and others who get lower tips than bartenders and are suffering even worse.
Green’s biggest issue is the bar he owns in the East Village called Blue Quarter. With no revenue, he has to negotiate with the landlord about paying the rent.
Green said that he saw a 70 percent drop in sales by last Saturday and realized that things were serious.
Bar owner Max Green (pictured) said he has to negotiate his landlord about paying rent and is upset he can’t go home out of fears he’ll spread the disease to his sick mom
EAST VILLAGE: Green’s biggest issue is the bar he owns in the East Village called Blue Quarter (pictured). With no revenue, he has to negotiate with the landlord about paying the rent. Green said that he saw a 70 percent drop in sales by last Saturday and realized that things were serious.
He said: ‘Most people are trying to figure that out the rent and have a conversation with our landlord. None of us can afford to pay 10, 15, or 30 thousand dollars a month when we have no revenue’.
Green said that bartenders at higher end cocktail bars could earn up to $1,200 a week, but in New York it wasn’t as much as it sounds because of the high cost of living.
Green, 32, said he thinks many bartenders are more concerned about health than money, saying: ‘Most people in their mid 20s which is a large swath of the bar staff have the concern: ”Do I go home to my family or do I stay in New York? But if I do that, do I risk bringing the illness to them or my grandparents even though I’m asymptomatic?”
‘That’s the biggest risk, spreading without knowledge’.
Green’s own mother is single, elderly and had heart surgery last week. He said: ‘That’s my biggest fear right now. I can’t see her. She’s getting better every day but not being able to take care of a person who has taken care of you for your entire life is not the best’.
Sirjoon Elassal: Eating food being thrown out by the bar where he works
Until Monday, Sirjoon Elassal was mixing $15 drinks like the Freya Regal at Amor y Amargo, a Manhattan cocktail bar.
Now he’s going to dip into his savings to pay his rent, which he said was between $1,000 and $500.
The 26-year-old said: ‘It’s terrifying and it’s not easy to accept as a reality because this industry seems impervious, the most in the world, Through storms and hurricanes there were places that were open.
‘But because this is a pandemic that relies on socializing, that’s the one weakness we have’.
Until Monday, Sirjoon Elassal was mixing $15 drinks like the Freya Regal at Amor y Amargo, a Manhattan cocktail bar. Elassal said he has been living off food he was given from a bar he worked at
EAST VILLAGE: The 26-year-old said: ‘It’s terrifying and it’s not easy to accept as a reality because this industry seems impervious, the most in the world, Through storms and hurricanes there were places that were open.’ Pictured: Amor y Amargo where Elassal worked before the shutdown
Elassal said that on a good night he could get enough tips to cover three quarters of his rent. Last weekend there were four people in the bar and ‘the only thing we could talk about was the coronavirus’.
He said: ‘There’s so much uncertainty it causes so much fear. It’s crazy’.
Elassal is thankful he does not have extravagant tastes but he says that he is a workaholic and finds having nothing to do difficult.
He said: ‘The longer this goes on the worse it will get. The unemployment aid will be a bandage on the gash but that will run out eventually. We have no sick pay, nothing like that. We’re kind of out on our own’.
Earlier this week Elassal was helping the owner of another bar he worked at to take out the perishable food.
He said: ‘He told me to take as much as you want, this is food for you. I got two weeks worth of food from him which I’m very thankful for’.
Andrew Fafoutakis: Can’t afford to shop for groceries
Andrew Fafoutakis was earning up to $300 a night in tips at Hudson Malone in Midtown East until the shutdown.
He lives in the Bronx and pays $800 a month in rent – low by New York standards – but he is anxious.
He said: ‘On a good night you’re hoping for up to $300 a night which sounds like a lot but the cost of living in New York is insane.
‘That’s why it’s so hard for tipped employees – one night off and it hits you hard. You have a week off and it can devastate you in terms of rent’.
Andrew Fafoutakis said he went from making $300 a night to nothing, admitting he can’t buy groceries because he is so broke
MIDTOWN EAST: Fafoutakis said he was ‘praying’ for a rent freeze and didn’t know how he would pay his cell phone bill. He has not been out grocery shopping yet and has been working through food that is in his apartment. Pictured: Hudson Malone where Fafoutakis used to work
Fafoutakis, 36, said he was ‘trying to be good natured about it’ so far. He said: ‘This is only week one. If week two or week three comes by I will feel worse.
‘I’m taking it day by day’. With no health insurance or sick pay, getting the coronavirus would make this situation even worse. He said: ‘I’m self quarantining. I’ve been monitoring my symptoms but so far I’ve not seen anything’.
Fafoutakis said he was ‘praying’ for a rent freeze and didn’t know how he would pay his cell phone bill. He has not been out grocery shopping yet and has been working through food that is in his apartment.
He said: ‘I’m reducing expenses and I’m trying to go bare bones and not indulge. I’m watching a lot of TV and Netflix is a saving grace. Now it’s crazy how important social media is, we’re all sharing stuff through Instagram and Facebook.
‘Even communicating and sharing our concerns. A lot of us are freaking out right now as we’ve never seen anything on this level’.