This installment of Fest Practices with... - Covid Edition recaps the conversation we had with Brooke Malone, from Walking Tree Brewery in Vero Beach, Florida. Malone, who’s responsible for their marketing and events, shares her experience from their Wings N’ Beer Anyway Fest (click View Details) that they recently hosted at their brewery on February 20, with 15 participating breweries to over 400 attendees.
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: During the planning stage, what were your biggest apprehensions about whether to throw the event? How did they play out during the event?
BROOKE MALONE: The answer is tricky because we executed our event in line with all standards that we were supposed to, but, given the obvious circumstances, we are at the mercy of the court of public opinion. It takes one person to take issue with anything you do, and then tomorrow you wake up to find the internet has gone crazy [on you]. To be honest, that part is terrifying. We were really concerned about how we would deal with potential backlash. But! Our community showed up in full force with amazing support. We could’ve tripled our capacity if we would’ve allowed it.
How did you communicate to the public about your safety precautions? What did you share with them, and how did it play out during the event?
We had a sanitation plan for all breweries and vendors. All breweries were required to have sanitation stations, and all vendors had to wear masks and gloves for service. We also had 10 volunteers dedicated to wiping down high-touch surfaces at regular intervals throughout the day.
Our primary communication on safety protocols was that this was a relatively small-scale, outdoor event, with everything spread out and an active sanitation crew. We also used single-service beer tasting cups. Still, it appeared that no one was bothered by what we did or didn’t do. For example, we placed over 40 sanitizer stations throughout the event and almost none of them actually got used.
At the time of your event, what were Florida’s general restrictions, if any, for on-premise consumption at breweries?
We were and still are open at full capacity.
How should festivals approach the countless transactions between bartenders and attendees touching the same glassware, exchanging drink tickets, using Porta-Johns, etc.?
I will say that attendees voiced their appreciation for our touchless check-in. It was actually quite efficient, more than anything.
But, overall, personally, I feel this is very difficult to solve in full. The protocols and solutions seem to really be oriented toward satisfying the public-facing optics of what’s going on. What I’m saying is that we have to make sure that we have everything in place to provide a safe experience—signage, sanitation, additional support staff, etc. And we did. But, masks weren’t required for attendees, so we can’t hold them to a standard that’s not required nor be confrontational or take it personally if they’re not complying with something they don’t have to.
We did everything required for us to host the event, so the onus of responsibility at that point is on the patron because they chose to attend on their own accord.
On a completely separate note, if single-use cups become the norm for events like this, it creates a whole other long-term issue for the environment. But, that’s another conversation.
Pro tips for breweries and/or attendees who are considering an event while Covid’s still in the picture?
Understand that enforcement of regulations and policies can be very difficult. It only takes one person to throw their wrench onto a public platform and ruin your event with a social media nightmare.
In hindsight, I wouldn’t have spent the hundreds of dollars on additional sanitation now knowing that barely anyone used it. But, again, we have to do all the things because of the way it has to look, not necessarily because of what it is, what it does, or whether anyone cares that it’s there or uses it.
Ultimately, do the best you can for your brand and stick to your guns. We did the best we could to make it safe. We’re just trying to keep our business alive.
Were masks required?
Yes, for participating breweries/vendors, but no—not for attendees.
How effective was social distancing during the event?
We maintained six feet between tents. I didn’t weigh the containers, but I doubt we went through 10 oz of sanitizer total among the 40 stations we had positioned everywhere. Why do I think that is? I honestly don’t know. Overall, attendees didn't seem to care right from the start.
Does Florida have some strange populace of humans as compared to the rest of the country? I doubt it. Our governor said something along the lines of, “Florida is going to deal with this standing up, not in the fetal position.”
We’re lucky that we’re just surrounded by people who want to live—not just exist.
What was it like hosting multiple other breweries? How did they comply? Were there any challenges to having many breweries there?
They were all very helpful, honestly, but I couldn’t speak to their compliance—we were too busy to police them. But, by and large, they were simply overjoyed to actually do a beer fest again.
Is there anything you learned during this event that will be valuable in planning your next event?
Other events have begun to show themselves, 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!