| Adobe Stock photo
By Susan Landry
Rachael Cohaut was laid off from her job at Alvarado Street Brewery in Monterey last month, but she received two tips recently. The total of the gratuities: $7. They won’t pay the rent, but Cohaut was thrilled to get them.
“It was definitely the highlight of my day,” said Cohaut. “It helps remind you that you are appreciated, you’re thought of and you’re not alone in all of this.”
The tips came via a new website dubbed ServiceIndustry.Tips, which is offering some respite to industry workers struggling with the financial insecurities brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.
The volunteer-run site — which officially launched on March 17 — invites users to send virtual tips to service workers in their city or across the nation while they’re hunkered down at home.
“If somebody wants to help someone immediately, directly in their community, this is a great way to just go on and send money.” said Kelly Kuhn, the site’s administrator for Monterey. “We offer direct assistance, so there’s no middle man.” Instead, the fee-free platform links users directly to workers’ Venmo or Cash App accounts, where they can send an amount of their choosing.
More than 240 Monterey service workers have signed up on the site, which has clocked about 560 “tip clicks” so far. SITips does not track the actual tip amounts given, but tip clicks represent the number of times a user transfers from the site to a worker’s Venmo account or Cash App. For the most part, users are sending small dollar donations, Kuhn said, though she’s heard some reports of tips in the $50 to $100 range.
Cohaut also chose to offer several donations to other workers through the site. “I felt like because I’ve received something, I wanted to give something, too,” she said, “because we’re all struggling, we’re all in the same boat and a little goes a long way, especially when it comes to morale boosting.”
The site is open to anyone who relies on a tip base for their income, including tattoo artists, nail technicians, hair stylists, banquet workers, dishwashers and back of house restaurant staff. “We welcome any of those people to sign up,” said Lanet Sandoval, the site administrator in Salinas, who’s worked in the service industry for over a decade. “We’re all in this together.”
"We’re all struggling, we’re all in the same boat and a little goes a long way, especially when it comes to morale boosting." Rachael Cohaut
Nationally, more than 70,000 workers are registered on SITips, with about 111,000 tip clicks documented so far. Kuhn noted that while many of these workers will also qualify for unemployment, the site’s immediate assistance offers a particular benefit as many workers wait on other forms of aid to come through.
In California, many newly-eligible event workers, self-employed gig workers or independent contractors are still weeks away from receiving unemployment assistance. On April 14, California Labor Secretary Julie Su announced that the state hopes to have an application portal available to these workers in two weeks.
“Unemployment is going to be the foundation for most of us but obviously there are some holes in that,” said Kuhn, who’s worked in the service industry for about 10 years. “Some people who we really rely on in the restaurant industry aren’t covered by that even though unemployment insurance is paid for everybody who’s working at your restaurant.”
Nationwide, about 10 percent of hospitality workers are undocumented, but in cities like Los Angeles, this number could be closer to 40 percent, according to the nonprofit One Fair Wage.
Despite bolstering the tax base to the tune of billions of dollars each year, undocumented workers do not qualify for unemployment or the government issued stimulus checks. This is also an issue for many employees on certain work visas, for whom losing a job could also threaten their legal status in the country.
Kuhn said that while the site cannot supplement the loss of a job or income, it’s an important step in the right direction. “It’s quick, it’s community-oriented, and it’s ongoing,” she said. “I think it’s a good way for people to feel supported — and not just financially — there’s a big moral support component here.”
All service industry workers in need of assistance are encouraged to apply online, a process Cohaut said takes just a few minutes. It is then up to local volunteer staff to try and vet applicants and ensure they qualify. Still, according to the site’s FAQs, “There is a measure of trust involved in donating here, and it is up to you to decide whether you are comfortable with this system or not.”
Local donor Bill Cox said, “I think we have to secure — or at least make an attempt to secure — our lifestyle away from home. And our lifestyle away from home is restaurants. It’s the bars, it’s entertainment, it’s wine tasting. It’s everything that we enjoy doing when we’re coming together at 5 o’clock on a Friday,” said Cox, who’s contributed amounts ranging from $5 to $20 through the site.
“It’s not going to solve everything that’s needed, but it’s going to help a little bit. And hopefully . . . when everybody comes back out, they can have their favorite server, bartender or waiter there, too.”
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