Craft beverages have exploded in popularity over the past few years. But the enjoyment goes beyond imbibing in the drinks themselves. Consumers frequently visit taprooms, wineries and distilleries, looking at them as destinations within themselves. This audience spends their time and money at these locations, with many of them traveling to visit different tasting rooms. In fact, some consumers build entire trips around a specific craft beverage producer.

In response to the Coronavirus outbreak, restrictions prevented on-premise consumption and asked consumers to stay home. This was a tough blow to an industry that relied heavily on tasting room revenue. In New York State, temporary privileges allow alcohol to be sold in sealed containers for pickup, takeout and home delivery. These new regulations helped ease the burden but many still felt the hardship of the pandemic.

Regions and states across the U.S. are beginning to reopen. After months of staying home, consumers are itching to get out of the house. And craft beverage tasting rooms are one of the destinations they’re looking forward to visiting. In a recent consumer survey by the New York State Brewers Association (NYSBA), 48% of respondents said they would “go to a brewery as soon as possible.” Sixteen percent of respondents said they would visit a brewery in June for on-premise consumption and 19% said they would visit one in July. With this pent-up demand, craft beverage producers need to be ready to act.

Key Messages

In working through the pandemic, one thing has been clear – communication is key. It’s essential to keep your customers, employees and stakeholders informed, even when there are no answers. This remains true as we move into recovery. Here are some emerging trends and key messages to consider:

  • Consumers care about health, safety and trust. NYSBA reported that 34% of respondents would be willing to visit a brewery within three months of its reopening “if certain safety measures were in place.” Highlight the procedures you have in place to keep your consumers safe and healthy.
  • Consumers want to know what to expect. Spell out exactly what the new experience (even if it’s temporary) looks like. Do you need reservations? How are visitors seated – is there a hostess stand or first-come, first-served? How do visitors order – do they go up to the bar or order via a QR code? Are you using signs to distinguish which tables have been sanitized?
  • Consumers want information at their fingertips. As a society, we’ve been a little spoiled during the quarantine. When we want something, we want it now. Alcoholic beverages can be delivered to our doorstep within hours. We can visit museums all over the world with the click of a button. Make sure consumers can quickly find your new times and services on your website, social media accounts and Google Business Profile.
  • Outdoor and open spaces are appealing. Travelers will gravitate towards outdoor, open air destinations first. The same can be expected for all consumers. 41% of survey respondents said they would enjoy drinking their beer outside. Talk about the amount of space you have to safely accommodate visitors. Or how your tasting room provides room to relax and unwind outdoors.

Ways to Act

A lot of work goes into reopening a craft beverage business with the new regulations. Now is the time to increase your marketing, not cut back. Here are things you can do right now to help market your tasting room:

Paid: Advertisements can inform new and returning customers that your tasting room is back open. Consider including a coupon or value-add to entice visitation. Local and regional customers will visit first so target audiences within a 2-4 hour drive.

Earned: The media continues to look for positive community stories. Have you brewed a beer in honor of front line workers? Collaborated with other area businesses? Found a special way to thank the community for their support? Share the news! Send out a press release, pitch or share photos with your local publications. Identify local influencers and bloggers that could help tell your story and promote your reopened experience.

Shared: Update your social media accounts and Google Business Profile with new hours and services. Continue to promote your food and beverage products but also highlight the new procedures in place. Share photos of new signs and directions to let visitors know what to expect. Encourage happy customers to leave reviews on the reopened experience.

Owned: Update your website with new hours, services and safety procedures. While you’re at it, review all of the content on your website to make sure it’s current. Take new photos and videos that show employees and visitors following new policies and wearing masks. Use your email newsletter to talk up your outdoor areas and speak to day-trippers in the 2-4 hour drive markets.

Ways to Innovate

The second lesson we’ve learned from the pandemic is the need to innovate. To be creative and flexible. In order to reopen, businesses are following the regulations put into place. Doing so may seem like there isn’t much room for creativity – or even your brand identity.

Stay true to your brand

Remember, visitors choose you because of who you are, not what you do. Don’t lose sight of your brand’s personality or the overall experience that visitors are drawn to. Find creative ways to adjust to the new protocols while staying true to who you are.

If you’re known as friendly and casual, stick with a friendly-face to greet customers and take orders. If you’re cutting edge and techie, look for advanced ways to automate certain processes. Let your personality shine in new signage around the tasting room, or directions on your website. Use your brand’s voice – is it funny and light-hearted or serious and straightforward?

Events and entertainment may take a while to come back. In-person annual events may become drive-thru experiences and drive-in concerts are quickly becoming a thing. Strike a balance between creativity and staying true to your brand, and you will leave a lasting impression on your consumers.

Keeping Innovation

Think about the new experiences that emerged during the pandemic. Virtual happy hours, tasting experiences and at-home tasting kits surged. Should these become a regular product offering? In reopening, some wineries have opted to offer pre-selected flights instead of customized tastings. Are these more efficient in the long run? Curbside pickup and takeout of alcohol have proved to be popular. If regulations allow, should you continue the service as an additional revenue stream?

As reopening and economic recovery begin, businesses will be faced with new regulations and challenges. And you will need to continue to innovate. Reservations are now required in many tasting rooms, and there is even talk of surge pricing in Napa Valley. One of the major draws of craft beverage – the tasting room experience of talking to new people and chatting with the makers, owners and staff, is all but cut out while the industry pivoted for the pandemic. Is there a way to preserve the connection we had at the counter while keeping everyone safe and healthy?