Side hustles to the front: Memphis bartenders are using other skills to pay the bills

The restaurant industry has taken a huge hit in the chaos of COVID-19.

In March, the United States saw its largest month-over-month increase in new unemployment claims since 1975. Roughly 60% of those claims came from food service workers, primarily restaurant and bar staff. 

Before the pandemic, many restaurant workers were already at-risk of financial ruin in the face of a temporary crisis. A recent report from the Federal Reserve showed 40% of U.S. adults couldn't cover a $400 unexpected expense without using credit card installments or borrowing from friends or family. Food service workers and other non-union, shift-based workers are more likely to be in that 40%.

Related: "In food deserts, COVID-related restaurant closures are especially devastating."

But food service workers also have advantages in an uncertain and shifting workforce landscape. Specifically, they tend to have broad, flexible skill sets applicable across industries. 

They're masters of customer service, communications, multitasking, and quick thinking.

Twice as many food service workers are part-time than in any other industry. They certainly aren't a monolith, but part-time work means many food service workers have other jobs, side gigs, hobbies, and hustles that offer new skills and knowledge alongside restaurant experience. 

In the absence of restaurant and bar work, some Memphis-area food service workers are leaning into those other talents. Scott Briggs, proprietor of Laid Off Lawn Care, is one of them.

Meanwhile, Party Memphis restaurant group launched an entirely new business to help local bartenders leverage their varied skills under one well-branded, well-marketed collective voice. It's since expanded to Nashville and Chattanooga. 

Laid Off Lawn Care

Scott Briggs was a full-time bartender with twenty years experience in the restaurant industry before he found himself out of a job. 

He drove for Uber and Lyft for a while but quit due to concerns about contracting the novel coronavirus from the many people he was transporting in his personal vehicle.

Briggs began to consider his other professional skills and hobbies he could enlist towards some cash flow. With 10-plus years of experience as an avid home gardener, Briggs launched Laid Off Lawn Care in late March.

Laid Off Lawn Care offers landscaping and gardening, yard work including edging, and leaf and limb removal. Most of the time, the work is zero-contact. Any face-to-face interactions with customers are conducted outside from a minimum of 6 feet apart. 

“Most people just tell me what they want over the phone while looking out their window, ” Briggs said.

He said he's gotten an unexpected joy from seeing the happiness his work brings to his customers during such a stressful and disheartening time.

He's considering continuing the business as a side gig after the pandemic subsides, but his truest passion is still bartending. He intends to return to it full-time as soon as possible.

Laid Off Lawn Care can be reached by text or phone at 901-300-0167 or by email at [email protected]

Two Broke Bartenders and a Truck is offering a host of essential, low- to no-contact services from pickups and deliveries to home cleaning and tech support. (Two Broke Bartenders and a Truck)

Two Broke Bartenders and a Truck

Before the pandemic, Taylor Berger and the roughly 10 other investors of the Party Memphis restaurant and event venue group ran more than half a dozen Memphis establishments plus a catering service.

Now, three restaurants remain open for delivery only and run only by skeleton crews.

In the span of two weeks, Berger laid off around two hundred employees. Two Broke Bartenders and a Truck was born from his desire to keep at least some of them working.

Two Broke Bartenders now employs 22 bartenders who lost their bar jobs.

"We have more and more requests coming in each day. We're hoping to continue to grow as a company," said Emmie Gold, who dispatches the bartenders and was event coordinator for Party Memphis before there were no events to coordinate.

Whatever a customers' essential service need, they've likely got someone with the skills to do it.

They're open to other requests, but their listed services include: home maintenance and repair, debris and junk removal, yard work, moving services, pickups and deliveries, design and staging for home sales, technology assistance, COVID-proof catering, and home and pool cleaning. 

"Our bartenders have so many skills," said Gold. "We're trying to take each employee and match their skills to the different jobs available."

Media representative Miles Kovaric said the project's passion and positivity are resonating with the community and food service workers. What began in Memphis has now branched out into Nashville and Chattanooga. Gold said their presence is smaller in those cities but growing.

Two Broke Bartenders prioritizes efficiency, affordability, and COVID-19 safety. They can be reached through their website here or by texting or calling 901-450-5990 for Memphis-area services. Numbers for Nashville and Chattanooga are listed on the website. 

Read more articles by Cameron Pollard.

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