Death of a Bartender; The Reality of COVID's Effect on an Industry

Jester's, Brewer ME, author owned photo

By Crista Jakacky
BANGOR, ME — Thursday May 14th 2020

As I prepare for going back to work, I wonder how it will all play out... Will I have as many customers? Will customers even show up? Will I get as many hours? Will the business I work for be able to abide by the state's 5 page checklist for reopening? How drastically will my typical income be decreased by all of this? And, will I be able to live on that income

I also wonder, am I the only one wondering?

I see so many of my fellow restaurant and bar workers getting excited, pumped up, even, to go back to work. And don't get me wrong, I am excited, too. And before you jump to conclusions- NO, I do not enjoy sitting around collecting unemployment. NO, I don't want to not go back to work just because I am netting almost as much as I was before I was laid off. I am going crazy at home, sometimes quite literally. I WANT to go back to work. I miss my customers. I miss my co-workers. Hell, I might even miss my boss. 

But I am also painfully aware of how different work life will look like now. And how incredibly improbable it will be to earn a living wage doing what we've always loved. 

Stone's Cafe, North Yarmouth ME, Portland Press Herald

Maine has a five page checklist for reopening. I get it. Most, if not all of it, is necessary in order to keep our customers and staff safe, but... Five. Pages.

Employee training, seating capacities, seating arrangements, partitions, face shields, cleaning supplies, masks, gloves, limits on numbers of customers allowed in the restaurant, limit of customers per party, throw-away condiments and utensils, limit of counter service for alcohol, collecting contact information for every party, and on, and on, and on.

Here's the Governor's checklist, in case you need some reading material in the bathroom. 

As a bartender, handling numerous bottles of alcohol, mixers, shakers, wine bottle openers, beer bottle openers, beer taps (and on and on and on)... my personal favorite is "Limit sharing of handheld equipment... and other tools and equipment between employees to the extent possible."
For my industry, that suggestion is pretty impossible, almost silly. But thanks, Gov.

Speaking of bartending... What about bar service? We will be allowed to have customers at the bar only if they are 6 feet apart from one another. (Oh, and don't forget the other rule... if counter/bar service doesn't provide 6 feet between the customer and staff, the establishment must put up partitions, OR the bartenders must wear a mask AND a face shield.)

I don't know about your place, but my bar isn't that big. By the 6 foot rule, I will have possibly three customers at my bar. Hell, the bar I will be going back to initially is not even a bar, but more a "station," so there won't be any bar seating anyway. 

Even in a regular bar, inside a restaurant or not, we will be primarily serving walk-up customers (at a slow pace to abide by social distancing), and mixing drinks for a limited waitstaff, that may or may not be required to tip out their bartenders. Even if they are required to tip out their bartenders, their income is going to decrease significantly, too. So the tip-out, if required, will be nominal.

Novare, Portland ME, WGME

In the excitement of returning to work, hoping and pretending things will be as they were, have any of my fellow bartenders thought about the impact this will have on our livelihood?

I'm sure they have. I know they have.
And everyone is trying to stay positive and hopeful. And I get that, too. Hope has been the only thing that has gotten us through this so far. 

Although I'm not a pessimist, I am a realist. And no matter how optimistic I try to be, the grim reality is that, after 20 years of bartending, I will most likely no longer be able to support myself in an industry that I love, that has been home to me, for most of my life.