Website allows customers to tip Montana service workers

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To help service industry employees out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of Bozemanites has created a free online tipping website for the entire state — MontanaTipJar.org.

“This idea shows my people and others in the service sector that our community truly values them,” said Travis Collins, a co-owner of Shine Beer Sanctuary and Bottle Shop in Bozeman. “That knowledge is incredibly important right now.”

The site was launched on Thursday and by Friday more than 70 workers — from Missoula, Helena, Bozeman and Billings — had added their names to the list of workers after finding out about the site via social media.

“It’s a little big heart-rending because each person signing on is declaring they have a need and are worried,” said Scott Bischke, who with his wife Katie Gibson has created Montana cellphone apps for wildflowers, fishing, hunting and cross-country skiing.

The idea for the website evolved quickly. Only days after Bischke and Gibson had returned from a two-week backpacking trip in Chile and were in a 14-day self-initiated quarantine the couple and their pals started talking about what they could do to help hairdressers, fitness staff, housekeepers and musicians who may be suffering through the sudden economic slump.

“We were talking with friends, trying to figure out what was something we could all do for our community, recognizing that we’re not medical people,” Bischke said.

Fishing guide

Fishing guides can sign up at MontanaTipJar.com to receive tips from clients while they are out of work during the coronavirus pandemic.

His friend, retired financial adviser Martin Coleman, helped brainstorm the idea. He was out to dinner when word began circulating last month that all restaurants in Bozeman would be closed to the public as part of Gov. Steve Bullock’s attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“The servers were devastated,” Coleman said. “A lot of them work two jobs, and suddenly both of them were gone.”

Rather than start a community fund and go through the hassle of vetting those in need and dispersing the money, the group came up with the tip jar idea.

“We thought we were making it up until we started looking online,” Bischke said and laughed.

A similar concept was being used in Boise and Washington, D.C., which was empowering, he added, since it confirmed the friends were on to a good idea. The D.C. site has more than 5,000 workers signed up. There’s also one for small Cody, Wyoming, with 36 workers so far.

Unlike metropolitan areas that were focused on one city, the Bozeman friends decided to open it up to everyone in the state’s service industry, and not just restaurant and bar workers.

“We’re painfully aware it’s more than just food people,” Bischke said.

The website, MontanaTipJar.org, is easy to navigate. One portal is for workers to fill in their information. The other is for tippers, to see who is on the list and initiate the transaction. All tips are given through Venmo, a cellphone payment app. So both the tipper and service worker must have a Venmo account.

“We’re just hoping to do a good thing to help people,” Bischke said. “All of us are unsure how long this will last.

“We’re hoping this can be one thing where people can look after each other, which is something Montana is really good at.”


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