While the World watched the White House last week as news of the coronavirus reaching the President spread, in New York City, restaurants were preparing to open with indoor seating for the first time since March. Around the city, dining rooms filled to 25% capacity and beautiful, sunlit patios offered patrons a bit of normalcy. While the weekend was a welcome reprieve for owners and customers alike, many bars and restaurants can’t survive the winter with seating restrictions. Which begs the question: what can tasting rooms do today to prepare for the cold months ahead?
- Reservation systems
- Crafting your indoor space
- Beverage release parties
- Guide to Marketing During COVID-19
|How does Winter COVID-19 prep make your craft beverage business more discoverable?
With so much uncertainty entering the final months of 2020, craft beverage customers will appreciate any level of control you offer them when visiting your tasting room. While our goal has always been to promote transparency during the pandemic – clear procedures pages, updated business hours and other messaging best practices – it’s even more critical now to eliminate surprises from the guest experience. Optimizing available indoor space will help customers see themselves enjoying a beverage with you this Winter.
Throughout COVID-19, craft producers have been forced to pivot in compliance with evolving state and local guidelines around social gathering. Tasting room closures, reduced seating, physical distancing and to-go sales are just a few of the many changes to normal operations. Reservation systems are an effective way of setting customer expectations and managing to capacity limitations. We’ve seen incredible adoption across many aspects of the visitor experience, including reserving dine- or drink-in seating, tours, events, tastings and others. Heading into the Winter, we recommend adding this functionality to your mobile-friendly website for the best possible user experience.
We reviewed many of the solutions out there and found one we liked: Team Booking for WordPress. It’s easy to set up, with mobile-friendly calendar and form displays, PayPal and Stripe capabilities and customized email notifications. Best of all is its integration with Google Calendar, allowing Managers to access reservations, team member scheduling and other appointments all from a single desktop or mobile screen. We set up two dining areas called “Patio Seating” and “Indoor Seating” with 1.5-hour blocks of time during normal business hours as an example on discover.marketyourcraft.com. The same system can also be used for reserving tour slots or securing a table at a socially-distanced, live music event. To properly set expectations of your guests, we recommend the following best practices on your reservation pages:
- State clearly any reservation guidelines, including check-in procedures, party size allowance, cancellation requirements and coronavirus restrictions
- Show photos of the space, including social distancing practices and guests (with permission)
- Link to your detailed COVID-19 procedures page
- Enable a secure (SSL) shopping environment if payment is required
- Provide a contact form for questions on new or existing reservations
With a reservation system in place, your business can confidently promote visiting the tasting room during Winter months when outdoor seating is limited. Consider [short]links from social media posts and profiles directly to the reservation page to help attract and convert new customers. Not sure where to start? We can help evaluate the best reservation system for your needs.
crafting your indoor space
Is the space inside your tasting room inviting to new customers? When the weather forces your guests indoors with seating restrictions, will they enjoy themselves and remember their time there? As an Owner or Manager, it’s tough to be objective when it comes to your business – you’re proud of the team you’ve assembled and craft beverage you produce. However, it’s more important than ever to view the experience through the eyes of a new or existing customer, paying attention to all the details that will make or break their visit.
We recognize not all spaces are created equal. Some popular craft beverage brands got their start in a strip shopping center, warehouse district or mechanics’ garage. And while marketing those businesses as destinations can present a whole different set of challenges, today we’re focused on designing the guest experience once they arrive. There are a number of decisions you can make to create a welcoming environment to guests during COVID-19:
- Music: finding the right balance of music style and volume to match the acoustics of your space is challenging. There are resources and services available for creating or adapting the environment. Just remember: music selection is a subtle reflection of your craft beverage brand to customers. Also, be aware of the options and traps associated with music licensing.
- Televisions: are customers greeted by the local game on five screens or a video introducing you to the facility? The decision to install TVs should be made very deliberately based on factors such as personal preference, utility, sales and promotional upside and others.
- Lighting: adjustable dimmers are the obvious choice, but default to brighter, well-lit rooms during COVID-19 to highlight the care taken to provide a clean and socially-distanced space for guests.
- Tables: spacing tables at a minimum of six feet, cleaning between customers and marking available for use are all common-sense practices for creating a welcoming tasting room.
- To-Go: where possible, position a cooler or display case near the entrance with full shelves of fresh, packaged product. Enable online ordering for quick and contactless pickup.
- Merchandise: if your business sells merchandise, make sure there’s clear line-of-sight within seconds of customers entering the front door. Plus, it’s always a good idea to have team members wearing items available for purchase 😉
- Instagram-worthy: when guests are confined to the indoors during the Winter, create a space for selfies. Sounds counter-intuitive, but taking away one 2-top table and chairs in favor of a fun space for taking and sharing photos will draw new customers during the colder months. For example, Red Bus Brewing Co added the back-end of a classic VW Bus to the indoor experience (photo above by Justin Chechourka of SacBeerBook).
- Deliberate pathways: if you’ve marked off six-foot spacing for customers in line or used arrows for pointing out restrooms or other facilities, you’re helping guests navigate your tasting room during the coronavirus. Are you doing anything more to market your craft in those spaces? Think about merchandise and to-go displays strategically placed along a customer’s journey through your building.
- Private event space: now is the time to be increasing promotion of any space available for party and business rentals. Emphasize the precautions taken by the tasting room team to help ensure a safe, enjoyable event. Where possible, add subtle branding elements to help tell the craft beverage story to attendees and provide audio and visual equipment for a self-contained experience.
beverage release parties
During the Winter, any traffic to your tasting room is good traffic! Fewer guests will be having multiple drinks over an afternoon of day-drinking than in warmer months. Holidays, work, school-aged children and weather all contribute to less on-premise consumption between November-February. Which is why online sales and engaging content are vitally important to stay top-of-mind with customers.
We like new beverage release “events” for continuing to build brand buzz across the colder months. Releases can be teased weeks beforehand, building a healthy amount of anticipation among fans and followers. Press releases will alert local media and broaden the audience for your news. Detailed product pages can be added to the website with click-to-order capabilities and shipping or curbside pickup options (imagine the production team hand-delivering packaged product to your car). Featured content can be made available to purchasers including recipes, pairing suggestions, virtual video and smart device tastings and others. Discussion and review can be encouraged after-the-fact, prompting new customer discovery while providing invaluable feedback to the production team.
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by a list of marketing efforts geared towards engaging to-go customers. The tactics that will work with your audience may look very different, and that’s okay! The point is to create opportunities to talk about your craft beverage on a regular basis, and new releases are a proven formula for driving traffic, building engagement and capturing new sales. Want to know more? Talk with one of our experts!
guide to marketing during COVID-19
The coronavirus has forever changed our approach to seasonality and marketing craft beverage brands. During the Summer months tasting rooms had the luxury of outdoor seating when indoor space was restricted or closed. The cold is coming, and your business must continue to think creatively about growing sales through storytelling. To help jumpstart your efforts, we’ve designed a guide with proven marketing tools to empower your team during COVID-19:
- Message COVID-19 effectively
- Design a procedures landing page
- Notify everyone of your hours
- Support frontline workers
- Reach new audiences
- Develop content and events
- Engage customers with video
- And more!
Schedule a complimentary Zoom call to review your digital efforts and receive “A Glass Half-Full: Marketing During COVID-19” (a $99 value). Sharpen your focus on customer needs and keep fans engaged during the pandemic.