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Living in the UK, we haven’t exactly been blessed with amazing weather all the time.  But during the pandemic, we all got very used to spending time outdoors – be that for our daily exercise or taking any form of permitted socialising that we could.  Suddenly sitting at tables outside restaurants and bars seemed ok, whereas perhaps previously we’d have always chosen to take a seat indoors where it was warmer.  And let’s not forget that pre-pandemic, a lot of bars did not have a licence for service at tables outside – these were temporarily granted as a way of keeping hospitality businesses open when indoor dining wasn’t possible, due to unachievable social distancing requirements during Covid-19.  Dressing for the weather and rather enjoying the bustle of the pavement, British consumers discovered a whole new part of the bar experience that wasn’t just for the smokers.  It was fun, it was totally acceptable, and had a great vibe.  And so, the relatively new behaviour of outdoor eating and drinking is now very much second nature for the British public.
Great news, therefore, that in the very recent Queen’s speech, delivered by Prince Charles, he announced that ‘pavement licensing’ will become permanent.  Al fresco dining is a key part of new legislation that focuses on ‘levelling up’ and regenerating high streets.  Outdoor hospitality is here to stay.  The hope is that many venues can claw back lost revenues by now being open both inside AND out.  All of the time.
Across the pond, in New York, one way in which some bars got through the pandemic lockdowns was by selling to-go (delivery and takeout) beer, wine and cocktails.  Granted via an executive order signed by former (and now disgraced) Gov. Andrew Cuomo, venues were able to innovate and create in order to keep their consumers happy, despite them not actually being able to visit the bar.  But this was only until June 2021, when the temporary liquor licence expired.  However, in March of this year, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced she is setting in motion a process to “permanently” allow bars and restaurants to serve to-go booze.  The New York State Liquor Authority is working on the details and implementation process.  At this point Hochul doesn’t believe that it will even be necessary for food to be required to go alongside the alcohol sales.  According to a recent survey released by the New York State Restaurant Association, 80% of New Yorkers want to maintain the rule that permits “Drinks-to-Go” takeout and delivery at bars and restaurants.
So what does all this mean for drinks companies?  It means A BIG OPPORTUNITY.  Bars and pubs have always been the place for consumers to trial new products without having to commit to the price of a full bottle in the off-premise.  Bartenders educate us on categories, brands and trends.  Bars are places of discovery.  But they’re on their knees.  They’ve been dealt blow after blow since early 2020.  Yes, they will appreciate an enthusiastic ambassador who visits at sensible times and offers free product.  Yes, they will find a decent staff sales incentive programme appealing.  But what they really need now is practical, venue-specific, meaningful SUPPORT.  Drinks brands have the chance to work in partnership with venues to co-create the staples now so desperately needed in the post-pandemic on-premise.  Takeaway drinks ingredients and packaging formats, website branding for online orders, outdoor furniture, umbrellas, heaters, lighting, table decorations, rugs, staff waterproof jackets…the list is endless.
In many of Barfly’s client debriefs of late, we’re pushing brands hard to consider this new dynamic – one that is very much here to stay. When we’re interviewing bar owners and senior bar staff around the world, the message is loud and clear: “Support us with outdoor sales and we’ll support you in the bar.”
I, for one, hope that drinks companies recognise that maximising sales in the on-premise is now more than just what is sold within the four walls of the bar. It’s time to think how to sell outside of them too.
This article was written by Elty Dudley-Williams, Director of Operations.