How the drinks on-trade is adapting during the coronavirus crisis

Millie Milliken

Millie Milliken

18 March 2020

From delivery services and gift vouchers, to drive-throughs and online masterclasses, the drinks trade is quickly adapting to keep business going through the coronavirus outbreak

What does the hospitality industry do when it’s faced with adversity? Adapt, create and – where possible – carry on. The last 48 hours have seen bars, restaurants and pubs hit hard by the mass self-isolation of customers in a bid to contain coronavirus, as well as other services operating in the trade (such as education bodies and suppliers).

And while many company owners may be closing their doors, they are instead opening their services to the public via home deliveries, gift vouchers, and more, in an effort to safeguard their businesses and continue to serve their customers.

Out of house

Delivery services have proved to be the most popular among operators. Signature Brew co-founder Sam McGregor announced yesterday that they would be selling Pub in a Box kits for customers to recreate the pub experience at home – complete with beer glasses, beer mats, a vinyl record, a pub quiz, a playlist, and pub snacks.

Meanwhile, Passione Vino (which supplies many of London’s top restaurants with wine) has today launched a ‘wine on wheels’ service, delivering its bottles to people’s homes via vespa; while Lady of the Grapes in Covent Garden has launched a new online shop to deliver wine, cheese and charcuterie within half a mile of the bar.

Cocktail bars are getting in on the action too, with bartenders forced to develop RTDs quick-fire

Cocktail bars are getting in on the action too, with bartenders forced to develop RTDs quick-fire. Agave-specialist bar Hacha is offering free delivery of its award-winning Mirror Margarita cocktail, served in 500ml bottles (judging by its Insta stories orders are ramping up), while Scout has announced it is working hard on building its online shop so people can access their cocktails in bottles.

Doctor Ink’s Curiosities in Exeter will be going one step further, launching a weekly ingredient box alongside online masterclasses so that people can learn how to mix during ‘World War C’. The team will also be sharing a series of posts including: ‘Using household ingredients to make cocktails’ and ‘How to make ice at home like your favourite bar.’

Delivery of content is also on the agenda. Education provider The Mixing Class announced that it will be offerings its usual classroom courses online via Zoom. In a Facebook post, director Hannah Lanfear wrote: 'From the beginning of April (and as long as travel presents a risk to public health) The Mixing Class' WSET courses will be taught remotely through an online classroom via Zoom.

The ambition [is] to make WSET Spirits courses even MORE accessible around the country than they are now

Hannah Lanfear

'You will receive your 30 or 60 tasting samples along with your study pack in the post ahead of your course at no extra cost, and on classroom days we'll all log in for a school day... Courses will be followed by exams held in all participating cities with the ambition to make WSET Spirits courses even MORE accessible around the country than they are now.'

They will also be extending payment plans. While before courses were payable via monthly payment plans that lasted four to five months, those who are self-funded can extend the payment terms to eight or 10 months to help spread costs.

Stock drop

While pub doors are closing, brewers are coming up with ingenious ways to keep stocks moving. Surrey-based Hogs Back Brewery has introduced a drive-through service for its draught, bottled and canned beers with customers about to drive up to the brewery shop, place their order (from a distance) and have their beer loaded into their boot. Customers can also ‘click and collect’ or have orders of over £40 delivered to their door.

‘One of the benefits of being a small brewer is that we can act quickly,’ said Hogs Back Brewery owner Rupert Thompson. ‘We launched our Drive Through service the day after the government’s announcement on social distancing…

One of the benefits of being a small brewer is that we can act quickly

Rupert Thompson

We are of course unhappy that pubs look set to be a casualty of the pandemic when they are often an important community hub… In the meantime, we’re delighted with the response from our customers, who have embraced the Drive Through and home delivery options to enjoy their favourite Hogs Back beers during these difficult times.’

Brew Dog is also thinking about those who are still able to get out and about. Brew Dog Drive Thru will allow customers to click and collect beer, food and spirits from their nearest Brew Dog bar and the team will bring it their care. The offer include bottles, can and draft beer poured into growlers, as well as bottles of wine and spirits, Hawkes cider and even glassware.

Gift that keeps on giving

In an effort to maintain income while out of operation, some venues have introduced gift vouchers for customers to buy now and use when they reopen. 

Opium in Chinatown is offering food and drinks vouchers for £25, as well as some for its cocktail masterclasses, while Mr Lyan's Lyaness is offering the same monetary vouchers, as well as some for its afternoon tea.

Fine-dining restaurants such as Roganic and Aulis are also advertising gift vouchers for tasting menus, set lunches and private dining experiences in a bid to maintain income while they shut their kitchens.

However, other establishments such as The Drapers Arms is discouraging guests from buying their vouchers in a bid to instead encourage people to donate to welfare pot. 'Many of you have very kindly asked if you can buy vouchers to support the business. Please don’t!!,' the team wrote in an Instagram post. 'In the absence of any clear government support (which may yet be forthcoming...) I will be looking into setting up a Drapers staff GoFundMe or similar welfare pot... This would just be a route to accepting the generosity people have offered and appreciation for my lovely employees at a time of hardship.'

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