Resources for Austin Service Industry Affected by Covid-19 Closures

Last night my restaurant closed and I couldn’t be more proud.

That being said, my last paycheck arrives on Friday. It’s been two harrowing weeks of escalating precaution, dwindling covers and shared anxiety. The emotional labor of providing service to our bar guests has weighed heavily on my conscience– unlike rye manhattans and luxardo cherries, social distancing and hospitality were not meant to coexist. But now, as I look forward to an endless, empty schedule and nights unburdened from uncontrolled insomnia, I’m confronted with a disturbing thought: how will we, my work family, survive without an income?

I know many of us who hustle and bartend and serve are panicking right now. We don’t collect stable paychecks, we’re on the tail end of even being considered for adequate health care, and we’ve all experienced or had friends unexpectedly lose their jobs to a sudden restaurant closure. It’s hard to tell what’s more terrifying: the unfathomable scale of global pandemic or the steady confrontation of your own livelihood. What we can do is learn and share information about the situation that we are collectively in. For those of you who are experiencing similar bar & restaurant closures as a result of this virus, here’s what I’ve assembled after being out of work for under 24 hours:

3 Fast Facts to Help You Maintain Calm:

1. You Won’t Be Evicted

Councilmember Gregorio Casar announced that the city will discontinue all evictions in Austin while Senators Elizabeth Warren and Jeff Merkley push for a national moritorium. Previously scheduled hearings for evictions are rescheduled to take place after April 1st.

2. You Won’t Lose Utilities

Extending through April, Austin Utilities will continue services even without payment. Flexible deferment plans and supplemental assistance have also been made readily available.

3. You Won’t Lose Internet

The Federal Communications Commission, FCC, has recruited over 70 internet companies and trade associations to sign a pledge that effectively maintains all internet service if you cannot pay your bill for up to 60 days. The agreement also waives late fees and Wifi hot spots will become more available for added access.

Austin Financial Assistance

1. Filing for Unemployment

If your restaurant or bar chooses to close (even temporarily) as a result of Covid, you may be eligible to apply for unemployment. Texas has created a separate category to recognize those that have been financially affected by Covid, and will prompt you about it a few rounds into the application process. Some things to consider if you decide to apply:

  • Texas unemployment rates range from a minimum of $69 to a maximum of $521, weekly. The amount you receive is based on your previous income. I used this estimator to determine if applying for unemployment would make a substantial difference.
  • You can still work after and while receiving unemployment, but having income may adjust the unemployment compensation you receive.
  • Your compensation claim begins the Sunday of the week you submit your application.
  • As rapidly as responses to Covid are evolving, it’s never a bad idea to keep in communication with your (somewhat former) employer. They may be developing beneficial ways to move forward financially.

For those that are overwhelmed by the idea of not being able to work, this might be the step to take while you seek alternative incomes. If these numbers seem sparse to you, remember that new aid and financial exemptions are forming day to day.

2. Southern Smoke

Southern Smoke is a non-profit founded in 2015 committed to supporting the food and beverage community. If you are employed by, own, or are a supplier to a restaurant or bar, you may qualify for charitable assistance. Focused on the uninsured, the application (y en español) requires:

  • a statement of need
  • employment history
  • paystubs, current lease/mortgage, and utility bills.

This is the only assistance I’ve seen advertised to restaurant suppliers, so please pass it on if you know some one who could benefit. Able to help others in need? Donate to Southern Smoke via PayPal here.

3. USBG National Charity Foundation

The U.S. Bartenders Guild is accepting applications for assistance as a result of immediate, unforeseen emergency. Money is distributed as a lump sum and is determined by need. Criteria include:

  • must be a bartender (or spouse or child of a bartender)
  • have experienced a loss
  • applicant is lacking necessities, such as immediate bills or groceries 
  • applicant can provide documentation to prove it

Recently, Jameson donated over $500,000 to the program. I would encourage the bartenders who have desperate circumstances, larger families and more challenging living situations to apply. In this instance, the people this program would benefit the most are the ones who are the most in need. To donate, visit here.

4. Temporary Jobs

If you’re immediately struggling, start paying attention to social media and community groups for safe, unexpected side jobs. H-E-B is ramping up staff to meet recent demand (offering jobs up to $15 an hour) and restaurants are developing ways to transform into delivery & to-go services. In The Weeds on Facebook has always been a hub for hospitality needs. Talk to your employers, former employers, and become digitally proactive. And remember, these are unpredictable times. If you can’t find what you need to get by, vocalize it. I’m still waiting to hear how those of us who are quarantined can digitally bring in wages.

Actions & Links

  • Petition to charge rent at cost for Austin hospitality workers found here
  • Petition for a federal aid package to support the industry found here
  • Resources for Covid safety if your restaurant or bar is still operating found here
  • Read up on how the James Beard Foundation is reacting to Covid across the U.S. as well as other resources for those affected

And before you go–

I can’t express enough how quickly policies and opportunities are changing. I’ve heard rumbles of sliding scale measures to help those in hospitality. It wouldn’t surprise me if more federal measures were soon taken to resolve many of our shared concerns. We are, emphatically, dealing with things one day at a time.

What other resources do you have to offer the Austin service industry community? Please reach out with advice and insights.

All the best,



  1. ebaylynn

    This is fantastic, thank you! I do have a question, do rideshare drivers qualify? I drive for Lyft and have absolutely no income right now. No one is taking Lyft or Uber rides so we are out of work too.

    Any assistance would be most appreciated.

    Thank you,


    Liked by 1 person

    1. theaustinspirit

      Hi Lynn,

      It seems as though unemployment is being provided for anyone experiencing a radical loss of income. Ultimately, the state should be able to determine your eligibility. I would also check with Lyft or Uber to see if they’ve released any statements on the matter!


  2. Nora

    Hi, I really appreciate the work you’re doing!! I’m wondering if you’d think about editing stuff to include spa workers and massage therapists? I’m an LMT, so work in a TOUCH industry that is very precarious for workers//little protections or pto. I’m worried that our industry is smaller in Austin and not as organized as service industry and am hoping our needs are similar enough we can work together? I’m very concerned that spas massage places are still open this week because it is not safe to us or the public for us to be working right now and there is no $afety net for us for lost wages if we don’t feel comfortable working or don’t get booked at all this week. Just looking for ways to advocate//hopefully hop on the momentum of the service industry organizing which I am very great full to!! Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Karen B

    Working in the medical field at DSMCUT, any business willing to pull late nights hours delivering food for hospital staff working the night shift??? Would definitely make up some profit & help us out!


  4. Shelby Stephens

    Thousands of service industry workers have created profiles on Jolly ( The Jolly team works hard to find businesses that are still hiring (grocery stores, delivery services, cleaning companies). Also, any individual can post on Jolly to find local independent workers to help shop, deliver things, cook meals, etc.


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