The year was twenty-twenty and the world felt like it was doomed. Everything was cancelled. Local, mom-and-pop businesses were shuttered. Taprooms, vibrant, communal gatherings spaces, went quiet. And, the grand, swaying white tents under which thousands of hustling breweries and thirsty enthusiasts across the country normally converged went unpitched because beer festivals disappeared…
Just before we had any idea about the scope of how painful the sting from the absence of social gatherings was going to feel, we launched Fest Practices—a blog series sharing insight into event activation and marketing best practices. Perfect, ironic timing, right?
Since, we’ve been holding our breath with our fingers tightly crossed for the day when we can once again stand in line with a bunch of strangers who become friends just to get a five-ounce pour from our favorite breweries. We all want that experience back.
Maybe it’s because we’re exhausted from constantly looking over our shoulder, nervous about whether 2020 is still creepin’ on us, but it feels like we might just have a chance for a better, new year.
Well, someone had to go first and be the guinea pig. Earlier this month, the Florida Brewers Guild hosted Brews at the Beach, at The Don CeSar hotel resort, along the Gulf of Mexico, and invited over a dozen participating breweries to test the waters on what beer festivals might look like in a post-pandemic era.
So, we grabbed virtual beers with our buddy Sean Nordquist, executive director of the Guild, to learn how it went. Check the interview, below!
Editor’s note: This series is not political nor is it meant to shame anyone for participating or attending. Interviewees have been gracious enough to share their experiences as we’re all figuring this out together so that we can learn from each other. Constructive feedback, legitimate questions, and support in the comments are welcome. Be kind, be respectful. Them’s the rules.
COLDBREAK: What were the biggest challenges or most frustrating inconveniences that you had to 1) address and 2) overcome to pull off an event during Covid?
SEAN NORDQUIST: The biggest challenge is definitely making sure you are doing everything in your power to make the event safe for all participants, staff, and vendors. It will never be enough for some, and there will be those that think you are being too extreme. Ultimately, we had to determine how many tickets we would need to sell to make the event worth doing, and then determine if that was possible to do safely. We set a hard limit on the maximum number of tickets sold and brewers participating, and kept firm to those numbers.
During the planning stage, what were your biggest apprehensions about whether to throw the event? How did they play out during the event?
The biggest apprehension was whether or not it was too soon, and if we were being irresponsible holding an event. We determined we could do it well and do it safely under the right circumstances, but that apprehension definitely was present up until the day of. It mostly played out in the number of vendors who opted not to participate because they did not feel comfortable being at an event yet.
How did you communicate to the public about your safety precautions? What did you share with them?
We posted all of our safety precautions on every site, including the ticket sale site [see below]. We repeated the list with every interaction, and reminded all vendors numerous times as well. When people arrived, they were once again told what the rules were.
Covid-19 information as posted to the event’s Facebook page:
“The Florida Brewers Guild and the Don CeSar will take every precaution to protect attendees' health and safety. In addition to following CDC best practices, the following measures will be taken to ensure a safe and healthy environment:
- All beer pourers and servers will have their temperature checked before entering the event
- All beer pourers and servers will wear masks and gloves while serving
- All beer pourers and servers will pour from pitchers (not directly from a tap)
- Ample sanitizer and hand-washing stations
- Adequate spacing between beer stations, games, and tables
- Ticket sales are very limited to allow for comfortable spacing”
At the time of your event, what were your state's general restrictions, if any, for on-premise consumption at breweries?
It's Florida. There are basically no state restrictions at all. Local municipalities have some regarding capacity and permits for public-space events, but other than that it is "business as usual.” There are no restrictions for on-premise consumption at breweries.
How should festivals approach the countless transactions between bartenders and attendees touching the same glassware, exchanging drink tickets, using Porta-Johns, etc.?
For this event, all tickets were pre-sale. There were no day-of tickets available at the gate. All beer pourers were required to wear masks and gloves, and guests were asked to keep their masks on when they were not actively consuming. The event was outside and well spaced out. We provided disposable sample cups, and all beer was poured from pitchers instead of directly from tap to glass. We had extra port-o-johns and hand wash stations available.
Pro tips for breweries and/or attendees who are considering an event during (or after) Covid?
Breweries: Determine what your minimum number of attendees needs to be to break even, and what your maximum is to be able to still follow safety protocols. Set a hard cap and do not exceed it. Make everyone (staff, vendors, attendees) aware what the protocols are and enforce them.
Attendees: Be very conscious of what the event is doing to follow health and safety protocols. If you are not comfortable, do not buy a ticket. Read all of the rules ahead of time, including the start times, end times, and make sure you are reading the right info for the ticket you bought. If you do attend, follow the rules.
Were masks required?
Yes, for both participating breweries/vendors and attendees.
How effective was social distancing during the event?
It started off well. As we got closer to the end, the distancing got a little less distant.
What's the most UNsanitary thing you experienced that could've been avoided?
Nothing really unsanitary. I think we could have added an additional layer of protection by putting sanitizer at every table.
What’s one thing you wish someone would’ve told you before throwing an event during Covid?
There were not really any surprises, but you do have to be prepared for the anti-maskers and the "I have a medical exception" nonsense. You have to decide ahead of time how you are going to deal with that.
While Covid is a notorious moving target, what changes do you foresee making in terms of how you will activate at future festivals/events?
We are constantly watching the data, and watching what other events are doing. Right now, we are moving ahead with the assumption (and hope) that things are getting better.
Other events will surely follow, and your input can help influence other best practices for the rest of the industry. If you’re hip to share some pro tips based on your experience, too, drop us a line, let’s talk! Be safe, cheers!