So it doesn’t matter where you are located while reading this there are no bars anywhere that have not had some sort of restrictions put on them. From curfews to restrictions on numbers to social distancing to of course total temporary closure bars and restaurants have had to adapt if they want to survive. Yet such a common argument is that bars are far more than just purveyors of alcohol and are in fact social and community hubs and that their restriction is draconian in so many ways affecting not just the economic health of businesses and associated supply chains but also the mental health of staff and guests who crave social contact. But closed or restricted they are and technology has been for many a lifeline.
The first and most obvious change to the On Premise is that it effectively had to become Off Premise with various countries allowing take-away or ‘delivery alcohol’ for the first time. Now in the early days this was all done via social media accounts and pre-orders being fulfilled by guest collecting from the venue at a set time the next day. But as the pandemic wore on bars realised that they would be better served by making a deal with the devil – aka food delivery firms.
Now for those who don’t know food delivery firms such as Deliveroo, Uber Eats and others are generally as well liked as review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor – ie they are hated. From relying on overworked and underpaid drivers to execute the delivery of your hard worked on food – even if only partially but crucially as the last step - to the vast slice of revenue they demand (in some cases over 30% of a bill) and having to navigate a slew of algorithms and promotions to secure decent listings and appearances in searches Food Delivery firms have been a necessary evil that restaurateurs have been working with but bars have been spared that up until now.
But what started out as an imperfect necessity is also an opportunity to create a new revenue stream and also extend ‘branding’ in a way that bars have not had to before. From packaging to menus and from the actual products to any niceties such as fancy garnishes and even providing large format ice cubes the best bars have adapted and even prospered. Perhaps in the early days the customer base was just frustrated regulars ordering from their favourite bars to help keep them afloat but today ordering cocktails and even tasting flights of spirits from bars across your city has become a thing and is unlikely to go away in the months or years ahead and so bars need to get good at Delivery.
And the bars that have got good at delivery have also realised the crucial social aspect of their businesses and have moved as much as they can to digital. Thus you can buy a tasting flight of spirits and then get directed to a series of videos that will give you a tutored tasting. Or you can buy a cocktail kit and then log on to a Zoom call and have the bartender walk you (and others) through its construction. These are both nice added value but also help continue to maintain some contact and engagement with your audience – or attract future in bar visits.
And of course ‘Zoom calls’ – or whatever platform you use – have also been a primary way for staff to keep in touch and maintain standards and education. With in person training being illegal so brands and bars have turned to digital both to share education and also check in on the wellbeing of their team members. Obviously the various BCB shows joined together to form Pouring Digital to great success but on any given day social media will suggest numerous education initiatives on various platforms to help staff train or retrain and this too should continue even after we are all vaccinated.
I once asked a group of bartenders what the greatest innovation in bars in the modern era was and a grizzled old timer suggested Contactless Payment Methods as it made things so much easier and quicker – a mantra that technology will continue to facilitate post Pandemic. But the last element of this field of tech that is fascinating is the GoFundMe/Patreon/Venmo movement that the pandemic has bought forward. From virtual tip jars to paying for Digital Masterclasses or buying ‘gift vouchers’ that will never been redeemed I have been amazed at how guests have stepped up to the plate and supported their favourite bars. This is surely the greatest example of the necessity and social desirability of bars that guests have found new ways to support them via new technology at the same time as bars continue to look for new ways to serve and please them…