As a brewery with an onsite bar and dining, the most evident impacts on Fat Bottom Brewing in Nashville, Tenn., were the financial impact of canceling events in its event space, closure of its restaurant for dine-in services, and decreased orders from distributors due to bars being unable to open. But, said Director of Brewery Operations and Brewmaster Drew Yeager, “I think the less obvious impact is the ambiguity COVID-19 causes.”
Not only was the brewery not able to forecast when sales would return to normal, which directly affects the forecast of the production schedule, but it couldn’t even tell employees and customers when the restaurant could be opened. “The fact that we (as a society) don’t know how this is all going to play out is all we actually know right now,” Yeager said.
Fat Bottom produces kegs of beer for bars and restaurants, which made up 48% of its business in the first quarter of 2020. “With that part of our business completely disappearing overnight, we had to switch the focus of our production strictly to packaged beer for off-premise consumption. This meant we also had to get creative with how we reach our consumers and how we get our product in their hands,” Yeager said.
Historically, beer sales directly from its restaurant had made up about 5% of the brewery’s total volume. But in April, it was over 30%, as the brewery implemented delivery and curbside pickup options for packaged beer and wine, hot food service, and essential grocery items.
Additionally, he said, “In a time where people aren’t spending more time than is absolutely necessary in stores, we have had to divert some of our marketing budget to new outlets that would still reach our target market and let them know what options we are offering.”
While the facility has always had strict policies regarding personal protective equipment (PPE), facility sanitation, employee hygiene, and employee illnesses that innately help protect employees from spreading disease, Yeager said, “With COVID-19, we have increased our continuing education in these areas, restricted our non-retail areas to essential personnel, altered our shipping/receiving procedures to be non-contact, and asked all staff to work from home if they are able to do so.”
The brewery also staggered shifts to limit the production floor to three employees at any one time. And when more than one person was in the production area, each had their own “work zone” and were required to maintain a minimum distance of 10 feet apart from each other.
Yeager sees long-term impacts of the pandemic as extending beyond those of the economy. “Due to COVID-19, we have had to work remotely, keep a safe physical distance with our co-workers, and re-evaluate our communication channels,” he said. “All of that comes with a direct impact on the feeling of community and the culture that we have worked so hard to create.” To help lessen that impact, the brewery focused on ways that it could keep an open and honest line of communication with its staff about everyone’s mental and physical health.
“These times can be stressful for everyone and it is amazing how much can be lifted even just by having a virtual happy hour,” he said. “It’s a time to not think about what is on the news and just be present with our coworkers and our families. I think after everything returns to some type of normality, that is something we will continue to prioritize.”