With the global pandemic likely to last through the summer, breweries across the country are facing different timelines—varying by state and locality—as to when they legally have the option of reopening their taprooms.
As more people in the hospitality industry ponder how to welcome customers as safely as possible—while also protecting their staff—new and detailed best practices are emerging. They offer a glimpse of service and public life that will be very different, for a while, from what it was before the pandemic.
This week, Georgia became one of the first states in the country to “reopen,” though hundreds of restaurants opted to remain closed for now. A quick canvas of breweries there found that virtually all are still limiting sales to curbside and to-go only, though at least one—Reformation in the Atlanta area—was offering draft beer and limited outdoor seating for spaced-out groups of eight or fewer people.
Monday Night Brewing, also in Atlanta, today posted the results of a survey of more than 700 of its customers—most of whom were buying beer to-go. Among other responses, more than 60 percent said they did not expect to return to a taproom until June or July. Responses to other questions placed a high importance on factors such as WHO/CDC advice and sanitization of surfaces.
To help breweries prepare for reopening and consider how best to do it, the Brewers Association this week published a Checklist for Reopening Guide. The goal is to help breweries think through all the details “and control as many variables as possible” before reopening.
“Prior to opening, regulators will want assurances that you understand and have considered potential problem areas, have adapted your service model to safeguard customer and employee health, and have implemented practices that mitigate viral exposure,” the guide says. “An effective plan will communicate how your business is minimizing risk and should instill confidence in your customers and staff. With that in mind, it is critical to thoroughly prepare for a public opening prior to allowing patrons back into your brewery.”
Many of the outlined steps are not one-size-fits-all but need to be considered in light of size, business model, floor plan, and available staff and supplies. “While it will be important to keep your customers informed of new policies, requirements, and changes at your brewery, you cannot rely on them alone to uphold the necessary standards,” the guide says. “Your business should lead the charge by constructing and executing a comprehensive plan.”
Specifically, here are a few of the many steps outlined in the checklist guide:
- “Inspect and inventory personal protective equipment (PPE), sanitizers, and other health/safety needs.”
- “Host training sessions on all updated standard operating procedures (SOPs) and policies BEFORE reopening.”
- “Update your visitor capacity based on local, state, and federal guidance.”
- “Set all tables AND chairs at least 6 feet apart from other tables or groups.”
- “Remove games and other shared entertainment items that cannot be sanitized.”
Other notes in the guide are not specific steps, but rather questions that businesses are encouraged to answer on their own. “Do you need to limit group sizes or only allow a set number of people in a single group? If local, state, or federal guidelines recommend groups of 10 or fewer, your reservation policy should match. Be prepared to handle this on the fly with groups who are unaware of the policy.”
Or, in creating standard operating procedures for bussing tables: “Should patrons leave glassware for staff? Should individuals bus their own tables? Should staff wait to clear the table until everyone is done? How do you communicate your policy? Can you assign certain staff to service and other staff to bussing? What model gives you the highest ability to reduce touchpoints, ensure staff safety, and encourage social distancing?”
The United States is approaching 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, although testing largely has been limited to those showing severe symptoms or in need of hospitalization. Authorities have reported more than 50,000 deaths related to COVID-19. The widespread public effort to slow the coronavirus by staying at home and practicing social distancing has presented an unprecedented challenge for the hospitality industry. Bars, taprooms, and draft beer have gone into hibernation as breweries have pivoted to curbside, to-go, and delivery sales in a bid to stay afloat until local economies can safely reopen.
In the most recent BA member survey, released April 7, almost half of respondents (46 percent) said that their breweries could last another one to three months, but no longer. About 13 percent said they could last only another four weeks.
Meanwhile, the industry group also announced this week that it had laid off 23 percent of its staff and reduced management pay, among wider budget cuts. “Like many of you, our members, we will be forever changed by the pandemic and economic crisis facing our organization.”
According to its annual Stewardship Report, the BA’s annual revenue in 2019 was about $27.8 million, down from $29.3 million the year before. Last year, about $16.2 million of that revenue—or about 58 percent—came from events. In mid-March, the BA announced the cancellation of this month’s Craft Brewers Conference (CBC), World BrewExpo trade show, and the World Beer Cup competition.