How you can help service industry workers suffering without tips

SPOKANE, Wash. — COVID-19 has cost thousands of workers in the service industry their jobs — and the tips they depend on to pay the bills.

Even before COVID-19 hit the states, the largest industry in the nation was on the lowest rung of the ladder. According to Spokane non-profit Big Table, one in six restaurant workers are below the poverty line, which is double any other working group.

“This has been a huge upheaval for everyone, but I can’t imagine the folks who were hit harder than the folks that work in restaurant and hotels,” says Big Table executive director Kevin Finch. “For folks in this industry, because you’re living so close to the edge anyway, the day that you don’t get to work means you’re instantly in crisis.”

Being in the service industry for ten years, Capone’s supervising bartender Ajay Archuleta knows how vital tips are for those working in restaurants and bars.

“Being tipped employees, you know, it’s a major source of our income and without that, you know, people are struggling,” he says. “It could be anywhere from 40 to 50 percent, sometimes 80%. I know that my tips are the majority of what I make, and you know, I’ve got two kids at home you know, we’ve got a family and bills have to get paid one way or another.”

It turns out, you can help workers like Archuleta without even having to see them. Employees at Capone’s just signed up for serviceindustry.tips, a website that randomly pairs you with a service industry worker in your area. Once you get matched with a worker, you’re able to send them money directly, over apps like Venmo and CashApp. The website is up and running in both Spokane and Coeur d’Alene.

Big Table, which is now looking to give hospitality workers triage grants worth between $200 and $400, has been helping workers get by for the last decade with its referral program. Finch says last March in Seattle, the non-profit received 12 referrals. In just three days this March, it received 102. He says the numbers are similar in Spokane.

“The person in need of help doesn’t reach out. It’s someone who sees them… We’re trying to get at the folks most vulnerable. And often, those are folks who wouldn’t even know how to ask for help themselves,” says Finch. “If they’re about to get evicted, we could help with rent. If they need food, because they just don’t have any money to get food, we can help get them a grocery gift card.”

Coeur d’Alene’s CDAide runs on the same mission and is now accepting donations to its emergency fund through GoFundMe and PayPal.

“We take small steps forward,” says Archuleta. “[We’re trying] to keep optimism high and work with the community to keep that hope. That’s what we really need right now.”