SOMERVILLE, NJ - Even though they can't personally tip their servers, customers are digging deeper into their pockets to help put money into the pockets of those who memorize menus, wait tables, fold napkins, pop corks, draw beers, mix cocktails and juggle pots, pans and cooking utensils to ensure a memorable dining experience up and down Main Street.
Customer coupons and a unique Virtual Tip Jar are helping to create a revenue source for owners, who can then pass on the proceeds to their employees who are temporarily out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the "social distancing" requirements put into effect last month by Executive Order 104 signed by Gov. Phil Murphy.
The directive limits restaurants to take out and delivery service only, and closes social gathering venues like theaters, arenas, casinos and bowling alleys.
Restaurant owners and their employees have taken a hard hit, but there are signs that loyal customers and complete strangers are extending themselves in this time of need.
More than $8,000 worth of prepared meals are being delivered daily to the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital by donors who are ordering the food from restaurants in Somerville and surrounding towns, a symbiotic arrangement that helps boost the morale of the hospital workers while creating cash flow for the hard-pressed restaurants.
Groups like the Somerville Elks, Somerville Moms, Scout troops and church groups have joined with individuals and families to maintain the daily deliveries, which include balanced meals, burritos, pizza, sandwiches, soups, bar food and other selections.
David Delinko, owner of the Salad House on West Main Street is urging customers to purchase discount coupons, which helps to put cash in the drawer in real time.
The Salad House also extends a $25 gift coupon for every $100 worth of coupons purchased; one customer recently purchased $200 in coupons, and was given two additional $25 bonus coupons.
She immediately turned her $250 in coupon credit in to ten gift coupons of $25 each to give to family and friends as gifts.
Delinko is also doing his best to keep as many of his employees working as possible by cutting back on everyone's hours instead of cutting staff.
"We're trying to be fair for everyone. Something is better than nothing," he said
Ever-inventive - and the first one to support a good cause - Rick St. Pierre, the owner of Verve Restaurant, Bistro & Bar conceived the "Virtual Tip Jar" online link to encourage patrons to help out the wait staff at the popular Main Street venue during its transition from a sit-down restaurant and bar to a curbside take-out destination.
St. Pierre posted this message on the GoFundMe link online:
"Verve as your Landmark Bar and Restaurant of Somerset County, is asking for your support to aid our Service Team; Our Best Bartenders, Servers and Bistro Cooks.
"These people are the Heart of Verve who serve you with Vervestyle! These individuals serve with Humility, Creativity and with the utmost of care for your needs at Verve and will continue when we are permitted to resume our normal operation
"Until then they need your help to secure loss of wages and this request is to provide for their relief fund as we adapt to the changes around us and adhere to "Physical Distancing and Social Connectedness".
"Please go to @vervestyle.com to our Home page and click on Personalities to view who you will be helping to support and for any other relative information that is listed to help in any way you.
The Verve Virtual Tip Jar For Staff fund has collected $2,891 towards its goal of $25,000; 41 donations had been received as of noon on Saturday, April 4th.
The link for donations is: https://www.gofundme.com/f/verve-virtual-tip-jar-for-staff?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=m_pd+share-sheet.
Online responses to the "Virtual Tip Jar" include:
"Rick St. Pierre and his team at Verve have always been at the fore of good work in the community. Rick has donated his food, his money, and his time to good causes throughout Somerset County, including our nonprofit, CASA SHaW, which provides advocates in court for children in foster care. I'm very glad for the opportunity to give back to someone who has given so much. I am keeping all of us in my prayers during this difficult time."-
"Rick is always there for the community - this crisis we need to be there for him and everyone at Verve!"