The order by Gov. John Bel Edwards to close the bars in the state to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus not only left customers thirsty, it also threw thousands of people immediately out of work.
The people who serve your drinks at local establishments range from career professionals to part-timers making some cash on their way to whatever they will do with their lives, but all of them are left without an income for the foreseeable future.
Jeffery Markle, head bartender at Cinclare Southern Bistro in Thibodaux, said the time off was fun at first.
“Now the reality has kind of set in,” Markle said. “I filed for unemployment yesterday and realized that it will be maybe 20% of what I make.”
That reality is a fairly universal one in an industry where much of one’s income is in cash, in the form of tips. That income will not be replaced in an unemployment insurance claim.
“This is my career,” Markle said. “For a lot of people, bartending is sort of a get-myself-through-school kind of job, but I’ve built my life around it. For me, this whole situation is pretty serious.”
One of those in the latter category is Mallori Soderstrum, a bartender and server at Spigot’s Brew Pub in Houma.
Soderstrum is also a student at Nicholls State University and has moved back in with her parents to save money. While her current semester is already paid for, she said she may not be able to afford to take classes going forward.
“When I was working, I’d bring home $100 or $200 a night, and I’d stash it away and pay for my bills and my school,” Soderstrum said. “Now I have to do with a check each week, and it’s about what I’d bring home in a night.”
Sasha Deroche works with Soderstrum at Spigot’s, and also at the Boxer and the Barrel in Houma, tending bar full-time between the two.
Aside from the financial hit she’s having to endure, Deroche said she misses the social aspects of her job while abiding by the norms of social distancing and staying at home.
“It’s a little weird not going to work every day,” Deroche said. “I miss not seeing friends I’d see every day, and always being around different people all the time, or having a relationship with anybody, really. It’s weird not being able to socialize with anybody.”
Markle is a modern, professional bartender, bringing the culinary sensibilities of attention to detail and fresh, quality ingredients to his craft.
That knowledge and skill set, while valuable behind the bar at a high-end establishment, is not universally applicable when looking for work outside the industry. With every one of those establishments closed by decree, the prospects for making a living seem remote.
“The thing that I’m most worried about is whether a small-town operation can withstand being closed for a couple of months,” he said. “It’s just kind of scary.”