The COVID-19 pandemic, at long last, is tailing off. Over 200 million doses of the vaccine have been distributed already, with most projections estimating that any adult who wants one will be able to access a vaccine by early summer. As a result, we expect thousands of small breweries all over the country to reopen this year, welcoming customers at full capacity for the first time in more than a year.
But the transition will not be seamless — and to ensure your brewery is ready to welcome back customers there are a few preparations we recommend implementing before summer traffic picks up.
1. Review All Regulations
First, be aware that regulations will not be the same in every state, county, or even city. It’s unlikely that your local area will completely lift restrictions all at once, and the last thing you want is to accidentally violate local regulations just as business is picking back up.
OpenTable has published a state-by-state guide to coronavirus-related restrictions that’s being updated regularly, including whether dine-in is allowed, whether restaurants can operate at full capacity, and whether dining needs to be outdoors. The National Restaurant Association also has a full page of COVID-19 resources you should consult to ensure that your brewery is compliant.
2. Stock Up on PPE
Even if the law allows you to reopen, your customers will likely be nervous for a while — especially when food and drink are concerned. It’s a good idea to require masks on your staff for a few more months to help your customers’ peace of mind.
Now that supply is more readily avaiable, you should be able to buy as many masks, gloves, and other PPE as your staff needs to see them through the summer. As consumer confidence grows, you can phase them out, but in the short term, your primary goal is to make people comfortable going out for a beer again.
3. Restart Your Draft System
If your draft system has been sitting idle for the last year, it’s vital that you clean and clear the system before volume increases. Failing to do so will compromise the efficiency of the system and the quality of the beer you serve.
The Brewer’s Association has a detailed, downloadable guide to clearing your draft system and getting ready for service again, including:
- Deep cleaning the entire system
- Assessing the freshness of your keg inventory
- Cleaning the lines with a caustic solution, then water, then an acidic solution
- Cleaning all glassware
- Checking and recharging gas lines
- Checking glycol systems
- Sampling beer to ensure quality
If everything is cleaned up and tested properly, you should be back to serving fresh, delicious pints of your signature varietals in no time!
4. Don’t Stop Packaging
Many breweries turned to packaging their own product during the pandemic since they couldn’t host customers in their tasting rooms, and it’s tempting to return to the status quo. But packaged beer can be a significant boon to your brewery even after taprooms and restaurants reopen:
- Intermediate sales: consumer confidence might be slow to return — we may see customers that are comfortable going out to a brewery, but not sitting in a dining room with other customers for several hours. For those people, a can or crowler is an excellent middle ground.
- Alcohol delivery: many states that allowed alcohol delivery during the pandemic have announced that they’ll continue to do so, opening up another vector for brewers to serve their customers. If your product is in cans, delivery is even easier.
- Brewery POS: when your customers taste a beer that they love at your brewery, they might want to take some home. They could fill up a glass growler, but growlers are unwieldy and fragile. Canning is the perfect solution, offering customers a portable, durable container that they can take anywhere.
- Broader reach: breweries thrive on word-of-mouth marketing, hoping that their happiest customers will recommend their products to friends and family. But even more effective than the word of a trusted companion is a taste of the product itself. By distributing your product, you catch the attention of a far wider audience and can expand your reach to an entirely new market.