With Summer being the prime months for most breweries, it can be easy to savor the moment and not think about the cooler months ahead. However, if you’re not already planning for less ideal patio weather, then you’re already behind.
Creating a strategy to survive the rest of 2020, and beyond, is a necessity. Reduced capacity in most cases has already reduced guests, reduced revenue, and reduced the ability to connect with your audience. Fall and Winter merely bring a new challenge and opportunity to once again pivot.
Here are 9 potential winter prep strategies you can implement to be ready.
Embrace the cold, get seasonal, invest in outdoor heat
Fire pits and heaters will be your drinkers’ best friends. If legally/safely allowed in your locality, even consider a monthly bonfire. I
know I’d take a marshmallow and imperial stout pairing any day of the week. Make it your goal to be the most badass winterized outdoor space in your area.
More importantly, be the first to make it known. We’ve seen breweries like Open Outcry, in Chicago, offer reservations in their igloo-like domes, complete with space heaters. While this could be an investment, consider heated tents. Be sure to check with your local authorities to make sure these
added spaces are compliant with regulations. Whatever you do, build it, flaunt it, rock it.
Plan outside-the-box seasonal events
I don’t know how many pictures I’ve seen on my Facebook feed over the years with friends diving into icy cold water to raise money for a good cause. While drinking beer isn’t (unfortunately) as noble, you can motivate your guests to visit even on a Fall or Winter day by thinking outside the box.
For example, pumpkin patch in the brewery parking lot? Followed up by a pumpkin carving contest? Christmas tree selection Saturday paired for a release with your holiday ale? A European-style winter market? Whose dog
looks the best dressed up like a reindeer? Create events that are meant to be outside. If you’ve got the outdoor space, consider hosting outdoor movie nights. Pick the scariest, friendly Halloween movie you can find. Do the same around the December holidays. Chestnut Hill Brewing Company in Philadelphia hosted a magical winter wonderland festival this past January complete with ice-themed attractions like an ice bar and live ice sculpting.
And don’t forget the food. People may want something warm to go with your cold beer. Give them a chili cook-off and invite your local food trucks for a rodeo to see who wears the crown.
Want to ring the New Year in with socially distant style? How about inviting your fans to help create a time capsule for 2020 full of all those items
they want to get rid of? It could be a fun, beer drinkin’ activity to also have everyone write letters to the hypothetical brewery guests who will open the capsule in 2120 detailing the strange year we’ve had.
Prepare pandemic friendly events
These ideas are a detour from your holiday events. Drive-in concerts are popping up nationwide, and while drinking (in even a parked car) shouldn’t be encouraged, you can utilize large outdoor spaces to host live music. Each ticket gets a vehicle an assigned spot complete with socially distanced area next to their vehicle to enjoy the show. Reward the driver with non-alcoholic selections and please the passengers dancing next to their car with your latest releases.
Drive-thru farmers market? You can see the angle I’m taking here. While it’s great to have those on-premise sales, up your online store game to allow guests to shop and purchase from your weekly farmers market, then get them at checkout to finish by purchasing some more of your beer to enjoy once they’ve made it home. And consider collaborating with all your vendors to make this a sought after limited release.
While brewery games are a little too hands on, construct a sanitized version of cornhole (socially distant, check) where you’re able to spray all bags after each use. Even though it’s going to be cold, people are more than ever
looking for that special occasion to get them a little human interaction.
Promote your winter gear
Recently, I saw a brewery post on Facebook encouraging guests to purchase their merch. However, it was a 100-degree day and they were attempting to draw attention to their logo flannel. Needless to say, the brewery is one step ahead of the game by having these items already in stock, and you should also be ready to push your long sleeve and cold weather wear when the time comes.
Train your staff (even better if the bar is outside!) to ask all underdressed guests if they’d like to purchase a hoodie to stay warm or a nice beanie to keep their ears from getting cold. The more comfortable they are, the more beers they’ll enjoy. If you’re hosting some sort of outdoor event, position a merchandise booth among the other vendors in a visible location. Having your staff also dressed in your latest brewery fashion can also help increase your chances of selling more merchandise.
Instead of doing a collaboration with your local coffee shop, do a collaboration with your local clothing company or seamstress. Would custom knit brewery scarves pair nicely with your December release and make holiday gifts?
Additionally, while not “winter gear,” promote the heck out of your gift cards. ‘Tis the season for giving, and who doesn’t want a gift that gives them a reason to drink? And while we’re on the subject, if you’re in
a ski town, consider partnering with a local resort to include a gift card as part of their packages. It’s all about helping one another.
Blast all of this online
Don’t just “winterize” your brewery. Let your fans know all the steps
you’re taking to warmly welcome them. As we prepare for a potentially equally socially distant next few months, people will have the itch to get out of the house every now and then. Continue with your COVID-19 inspired social media ads and show them why they should choose your brewery.
Ugly mask contest
If you’re feeling extra crafty, hold a socially distant “create your own ugly
mask night” where you provide all guests everything from beads to glitter to those stupid mini-Christmas ornaments extra hip hipsters put in their beards. Bonus points for the ability to incorporate your brand on their new favorite mask.
Keep doing the virtual sh*t
Perhaps a Christmas carol singalong on Virtual Taproom or Zoom as the guests sip on your seasonal release? Keep putting out the educational content, but remember, not all your audience are super beer nerds. Trivia is still easily converted to online and consider doing events targeted at the newer beer drink in need of some basic education. Use the down time to train customers on the lingo of the craft beer world.
Constant communication starts now
There’s a reason I am always advocating for staying engaged with your customers (wink wink, it works). Your communication with potential customers doesn’t just occur on Facebook, Instagram, and right before they by a beer. It is a continuous process where you should aim to always be on their mind.
The guests that attend your drive-in movie in October may also be interested in coming to whatever you’re showing in December. Make sure they know about it. Don’t assume everyone is on social media 24/7. Collect your guests’ email addresses/phone numbers now and stay in touch.
Reduced hours plan
We must sadly face the reality that consumers will be going out and spending less as temperatures drop. Consider reducing your hours and making each opening special. Shaving a few hours here and there may help cut out payroll during traditionally slow times. Maximize each interaction to the best of your mask-wearing, socially distant ability.
While unique events can provide immediate return, most taprooms cannot support an event every day of the week. Continue to craft a unique destination for drinkers to visit on all nights. Continue to push to-go
options. Continue to build brand recognition. Your ability to continue the fight against COVID-19 and the cold will be highly based on your continued perseverance. Don’t give up. Stay creative.
Andrew Coplon is the Founder of Secret Hopper, a mystery shopping company for craft beer businesses, and Craft Beer Professionals, a community dedicated to the growth and betterment of our industry. Check out all of his CBB articles here.