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Behind the Bar: Sketching Out Hospitality's “New Normal”

Greg Engert, beer director of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, shares his insights into how beer sales and service—in bars, restaurants, and taprooms—may continue to look in the months to come.

Greg Engert Jul 28, 2020 - 8 min read

Behind the Bar: Sketching Out Hospitality's “New Normal” Primary Image

On Thursday, March 12, I took the train home to Washington, D.C., from New York City. I had been there working at our newest beer bar, the Grand Delancey, and focusing primarily on how to maintain business levels as fears about coronavirus spread. On-premise business had already declined noticeably, but people were still clamoring to support bars, restaurants, breweries, and the like.

Everything changed that weekend, and by Monday, March 16, we—along with most members of our industry—had either temporarily closed or dramatically reduced operations.

As unexpected as the impact of the pandemic has been, I never once doubted the resilience of this community. It has been inspiring to see the innovations and pivots in the face of this unprecedented crisis. Some brewers distilled excess draft beer to ethanol, while others, along with bars and restaurants, desperately tried to package as much as possible for retail sale. With on-premise business annihilated, growlers, crowlers, bottles, and cans became even more important to the business, as did gaining access to retail sales through distribution (for brewers), but also through carryout, curbside pickup, and delivery. Key changes to alcohol laws didn't just keep countless businesses afloat; they made them multifaceted. They’ll have to remain so, since opportunities for on-premise sales will be at heavily reduced rates.

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Greg Engert is beer director of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, whose bars and restaurants include ChurchKey, Rustico, and the Bluejacket brewery, among others.