What started as a local, nonprofit initiative to create jobs for bartenders who had lost their jobs in the wake of Covid-19, Overproof’s virtual happy hour program CompanyToast quickly turned into an international undertaking. Since its launch in April, the program has created temporary jobs for nearly 300 bartenders nationwide, a $150,000 payout.
The program offered teams that shifted to remote work during the pandemic, an opportunity to enjoy social drinking while social distancing. Employers who would could purchase a CompanyToast for their team and treat them to a virtual happy hour experience to help boost morale and replace some of the camaraderie that may have been lost when shifting to working from home. Each company was then paired with a bartender, who handled logistics like packaging and delivering cocktail kits, including full sized liquor bottles, ingredients and bar tools, to each employee’s home.
So far, eight brands have jumped in to support Overproof’s CompanyToast initiative, including beverage alcohol brands, such as Jack Daniels and Bardstown Bourbon.
In June, thanks to support from Santa Teresa Rum and Cafe La Trova, a hotspot bar and restaurant in Miami, CompanyToast was able to offer a special edition Cafe La Trova Old Fashioned Cocktail Kit, with all sales going to the Bartender Emergency Assistance Program, totaling $18,000.
“With any initiative, you always need great partners and sponsors,” said Chris Norton, National Program Director of CompanyToast. “We’ve been very fortunate in the sense that we’ve had a great bar in Cafe La Trova and a phenomenal spirit in Santa Teresa 1796.”
“What makes CompanyToast unique is that we re-employ bartenders at every step of the way from start to finish – so everything from packing and creating our cocktail kits to logistics as far as getting bar tools, packing the actual bags themselves, and the bartender delivery service,” said Nick Nistico, Project Manager at Overproof.
“We actually ship the kits to bartenders who assemble them in their home markets and then they drive and hand-deliver each package to the consumer’s home for this tasting experience.” Nistico explained. “By incorporating every part of that into bartender hospitality employment, we create so many more jobs, which is really the backbone of this entire program,” Nistico said.
With such a vast bartender network involved, CompanyToast reached an international audience of over 2,000 consumers in the United States and five other countries, including Poland, the Netherlands, Spain, Canada, and England, in just three months.
“Virtual consumer engagement has been something that we have been looking at for a long time. When Covid hit and hospitality workers began to suffer, we saw this as an opportunity for us to do that while also contributing and giving back to the hospitality community,” Nistico said.
“The reaction that we’ve gotten from the consumer is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. I get to bring together 25 people that normally wouldn’t get to see each other on a normal day-to-day basis that they’re used to,” Norton said about engaging with guests virtually during times of social distancing and remote working. “And we have this platform where I can make drinks and they’re making drinks along with me. It’s more of a party atmosphere than a class atmosphere. I love how everybody gets into it,” he said.
Carole Lewandowski, Director of Strategic Partnerships at HackerU, a digital skills and cyber security education management company, participated in one of the virtual happy hours led by Nistico. Below is an excerpt from one of her emails to our CompanyToast team after the virtual event:
“Thank you to everyone for making our event a success. Nick, you rock and everyone loved you, so kudos to you. We have plans for many events, so looking forward to working together to make people happy! Thank you again and we are already working on our next event. Also, others that attended requested information, as they loved everything about it – from Nick to the product and concept behind the mission.”
According to Nistico, the bartenders have been just as happy as the consumers with the roles they’ve played in producing the virtual happy hour events. “The bartenders have been excited and thankful for the opportunity,” Nistico said. “It was nice that they’ve had the opportunity to do something that they enjoyed doing and got to work with friends. It was really cool.”