Athens Service Industry Looks to Online Donations to Survive COVID-19

Four weeks ago, Evan Adams, a server at a restaurant on East Clayton Street in Athens, Georgia added her name to the Athens Virtual Tip Jar. Since then, she has received six online donations — and she’s not alone.

Adams has not been able to work since the Athens-Clarke County Board of Commissioners established a shelter-in-place order on March 19, 2020. She and fellow service workers have found themselves without jobs or with few opportunities to work, forcing these workers to search for external means of financial assistance. 

According to the Georgia Department of Labor, Athens-Clarke County saw initial unemployment insurance claims increase from 199 claims in Feb. 2020, to 4,868 claims in March 2020, an increase of over 3000%. 

However, unemployment benefits are not the only option for struggling service industry workers and businesses in Athens. Several businesses in the area are turning to GoFundMe to crowdsource money to pay their employees. Similarly, individual employees are using the newly formed Athens Virtual Tip Jar to collect tips that they would otherwise receive at their place of work. Service Industry workers that are experiencing a non-COVID-19 related crisis have other resources at their disposal, such as Giving Kitchen.

Why It’s Newsworthy: Businesses around the world are suffering because of COVID-19, but solutions like GoFundMe campaigns and the Athens Virtual Tip jar can potentially keep these suffering businesses alive through the pandemic.

Tipping Servers and Bartenders Remotely

The Athens Virtual Tip Jar is a newly implemented community effort that allows servers, bartenders and others in the service industry to publicly post the link to their online money transfer service of choice, like Venmo, PayPal and Cash App. This gives Athens-area citizens the ability to directly tip their favorite service industry workers at any time. 

“I feel very humbled by my regulars’ generosity. To even think of me … makes me feel so appreciated. Everyone’s life got turned upside down, so it just makes me feel happy to be thought about at all during this crazy time,” Adams said.

Adams said she loves the Virtual Tip Jar’s Glitch.Me feature, which displays one of over 630 workers on the Tip Jar document for the user to donate to.

The Glitch.Me feature is intended to give all service industry workers on the Tip Jar the opportunity to receive tips from Athens citizens, but there are workers on the document that have not received any tips.

Nicholas Sobik, who works for Porterhouse Grill in Athens, has not received any donations since adding his name to the Virtual Tip Jar in the middle of March.

“The execution … seems to favor people who have been established in the area for a while and have deeper connections than some of us who are new to the area and need the help just as bad,” Sobik said.

Crowdsourcing Money with GoFundMe Campaigns

Sobik has not received any tips from the Virtual Tip Jar, but his place of employment, Porterhouse Grill, has set up a GoFundMe campaign to pay their employees during this economically challenging time.

“Hopefully, this is just a temporary situation, but as we go forward, our employees are scared and nervous about what the immediate future holds,” the campaign description reads. 

Several other restaurants and bars in Athens are starting GoFundMe campaigns in an effort to crowdsource financial assistance for their employees. While Porterhouse Grill says it will donate 100% of the money it receives to its employees, a GoFundMe campaign creator will not receive the full amount of money that their patrons have donated. GoFundMe adds a 2.9% transaction fee to each donation, so a business with a GoFundMe campaign will receive 97.1% of the original amount that each person has donated. 

Another limitation of the Athens Virtual Tip Jar and GoFundMe campaigns is how the effectiveness changes depending on the business’ or worker’s recognition or popularity. For example, Porterhouse Grill’s campaign has raised over $4,000 since it launched on March 19, 2020, while The World Famous has collected just over $1,600 in the same time period. Hi-Lo Lounge, a bar located on Prince Avenue, has only received $530 from their GoFundMe campaign. However, for Lauren Spiler, a service industry worker in downtown Athens, her largest set of online donations came from a joke on Facebook rather than the Tip Jar or a GoFundMe campaign.

“I did post a joke online saying ‘Venmo me and I will ask you how your food is when your mouth is full of food.’ From that I have gotten $45 from three people as a joke,” Spiler said.

For Spiler, it is the thought of “bringing the service industry community together with those who are not in the service industry” that makes the tips she has received important.

Austin Eller is a senior majoring in journalism in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication with the New Media Certificate and a minor in Japanese in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia.

This article was originally published at www.gradynewsource.uga.edu

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