4 years ago

Industry Altruism

Expanding Support through the Bartenders Benevolent Fund

The First Outstretched Hand

In 2013 in Toronto, Canada, a bartender slipped on some stairs and broke his neck. As they saw their friend’s income simply stop for the six months that he was in recovery, a group of industry leaders realized just how vulnerable many bartenders could be in hard times such as injury or family bereavement. Responding with fundraisers and events to support bartenders financially, the Bartenders Benevolent Fund (BBF) was launched. 

Efforts have multiplied and continue to this day—coming to the aid of bartenders who find themselves in financial hardship due to unexpected life events.

A Global Pandemic: Expand and Respond

The impact of COVID 19 on the hospitality industry was immediate and severe. It became quickly obvious to BBF founders that the need for their support would rapidly grow exponentially, so they immediately began to work on scaling up. 

Provincial to National

In two short weeks, the BBF website, infrastructure, and reach grew to a national level to provide relief for bartenders beyond Toronto, broadening to span the country. While the fund was unprepared for such a large and fast expansion, they stepped up to meet the need for a central fund that liquor brands and other donors could give to. It was among the first initiative of its kind in Canada.

By the last weekend of March, BBF had 18 bartenders employed in five different markets to screen local, anonymous applications on a common score-based system. 

A thoughtful, human initiative that values fairness, dignity, and respect. 

The process of applying for the fund’s support is anonymous and special consideration is given to certain hospitality staff, who could be more vulnerable than others (such as support staff who receive less pay and tips). 

The selection process is as transparent as possible, while respecting the privacy of recipients. 

Due to the vastness of the current situation, those running the BBF decided to help more people with smaller amounts so as to spread the support as widely as possible. 

So how does it work? 

• Every Monday, the fund announces how many grants are available for the week, based (primarily) on donations from brands. Hospitality workers can then apply for a grant of $100, $250 or $500. Applications  are first screened and made anonymous by a grants officer, who then passes them on to bartenders in the different markets who then grade them on a point system. 

• Criteria include:

– Need

– Urgency of need

– Availability of other support networks. 

• By Saturday, the applications have been reviewed and recipients selected so that funds can be distributed on Sunday. 

• The cycle resets every Monday. 

Broadening the Support Base

Currently the fund relies on private and brand donations.

The next goal is to empower the newly integrated staff to reach out to their local brand representatives, distilleries, and other possible donors to grow the fund locally, under a sort of franchise model. 

The central fund would provide infrastructure on the back end and channel any federal money to the different regions. 

Participating brands are recognized as the sponsors of every grant that is covered by the amount that they donate. At the time we interviewed BBF Co-founder Jonny Gray, he mentioned that they are hoping to start with about $100,000 dollars for COVID-19 support. 

Pay It Forward

Jon Gray recognizes that the success of their rapid growth is in part due to advice and help from people who had already done something similar. In this regard, the BBF says they would consider it an honor to “pay it forward” by sharing information and guidance with funds looking to support hospitality staff in other countries and markets. 

While larger markets, like the US for example, may need a more complex model, there are certainly other countries, like Mexico, that could adapt something like the BBF to their market. 


The Bartenders Benevolent Fund was founded by Andrew Toplack, M.D. (cocktail enthusiast, self proclaimed “professional customer,” and Founder of The Toplack Sessions), Jon Gray (seasoned hospitality professional and Director of Drink Tank), and Jonathan Humphrey (Beverage Manager of Drake Properties and Founder of the Toronto Cocktail Conference). These recognized and accomplished industry veterans have since been joined by Alana Nogueda (Owner of The Shameful Tiki Room) and Bev Wooding (Senior Social Media Specialist of Moneris). 

To learn more about the project and its founders, visit www.bartendersbenevolentfund.ca, find them on social media at @bartendersbenevolentfund, or email them at [email protected]