Tobin Ellis has spent the better part of three weeks holed up in his Las Vegas home. As with many in the hospitality industry, there’s not a lot of work these days for the award-winning barman and operator of the bar design and consulting firm Barmagic. Being at home, however, has given him time to reflect on the crisis in the industry he loves.
“My hospitality family, that I’ve devoted my life to since I was 16 years old, is in flames right now,” Ellis says. “It’s dying, and I want to help. And that’s the only thing that matters.”
So Ellis is using his skill set to provide aid and comfort to that extended family.
“I’m a reader, and I just started reading and researching. And I started seeing the same lists (of relief funds) everywhere. And I thought, ‘OK, this is going to get out of control. Maybe I can help by helping consolidate.’ ”
On March 19, Ellis added a “Hospitality Relief Dashboard” to the Barmagic website, where he posts information he thinks could be useful to members of his industry. (Find it at barmagic.com/relief.)
It includes an interactive map of the United States and Canada, where people can click on their state to find available resources, and those wanting to help their favorite bar, restaurant or bartender can find exactly where to donate. There are also separate links to relief sites, grants, donation sites, petitions, support groups and mental health resources, and news stories about relief for the hospitality industry. Currently, there are more than 300 active links crowdsourced from friends and colleagues.
Ellis says his target audience is “the 14 million hourly hospitality workers in America who have no income, no reserves, no health care, no paid sick leave and no representation in the government.” And his message to them is straightforward and practical:
“The truth is, there’s no one entity that can pull anybody out of this. So to pull yourself out of it, the first thing you can do is realize that if you can take 12 minutes of your day, and actually go through your state (listings), and click on each link, and read the articles. The answers to the questions you have that are creating the fear are there.”
He also is hoping those who may not be as severely affected by the shutdowns, and are in a position to help, will use the site to find a fund to support financially. As of Wednesday, there are 59 links solely dedicated to donations.
“We have more people needing help than we have helping,” Ellis explains. “The (millions) that the (alcohol) brands have donated to the USBG (United States Bartenders’ Guild) is an awesome start. But we have 14 million workers. What do we do to get the rest of the country involved? To them, their favorite bar or restaurant being closed is an inconvenience. It’s a bummer. If they know people who work there, they probably have some empathy. But how do we get the message out, to activate some percentage of the 330 million Americans who could do something — adopt a restaurant, virtual tip jars, food bank donations, whatever it is — that can stop the bleeding?”
The dashboard is currently attracting 1,000 to 1,500 visitors a day. Ellis is hopeful even more will be able to use it to find some peace of mind.
“There’s no magical beans on this board,” he concedes. “It doesn’t promise to solve anything. But if you are upset, or scared or confused, and you don’t know what the answers are, and you’re looking for them — instead of 17,000 people on a Facebook group, where every day everyone asks the same questions over and over, and people don’t even read the comments, here’s a place you can go if you really want help.”