“Cheers, New York!” Governor Kathy Hochul said on Wednesday, January 5, as she called for making drinks-to-go permanent in New York State. Alcohol to-go has been a lifeline for on-premise operators during the pandemic. From the onset in 2020, when many bars, restaurants and breweries suspended dine-in business, 39 states issued emergency orders permitting sales of to-go alcoholic beverages in some way, which became key to the survival of many on-premises operators. Nearly half of those states have made alcohol to-go permanent, or, like New York, are hoping to.
Around 20% of adult consumers and roughly three out of 10 millennials have added alcohol to a take-out or delivery order since the pandemic began. According to Technomic, 58% of consumers surveyed for the Alcohol To-Go study said the ability to get adult beverages with their takeout orders had a major impact on their choice of restaurant.
2021’s Promising Sales Recovery for Restaurants & Breweries
The start of 2022 paints a bit of a more complicated picture for on-premises dining. While 2021 overall sales numbers looked closer to pre-pandemic sales, staffing shortages and trouble sourcing ingredients make it tough to paint a rosy picture.
“It’s a different on-premises than it was before,” said Bart Watson, Chief Economist at the Brewers Association, during a webinar in December. He pointed out that while data shows sales look to have recovered, that could be attributed to people buying more per visit, but still visiting less.
While breweries face the same labor and ingredient challenges as restaurants, Watson focuses on the positive trends, like the average check at breweries remains about 25% higher than pre-pandemic.
Breweries Build Flexibility into Beer To-Go Menus
With average checks higher at breweries, there’s no doubt consumers signal they’re willing to spend money when they’re out. Taking home growlers, 6-packs or crowlers after a visit was popular before the pandemic, but the pandemic thrust to-go offerings into the spotlight, and some breweries are reshaping their beer to-go programs to build a new revenue stream.
Lagunitas Brewing’s Petaluma TapRoom and Blue Moon’s taproom in Denver are among the breweries innovating their beer to-go game. Both have added a single-serve 12oz glass bottle with a wide mouth opening to their to-go menus. Blue Moon “Moon Capsules” come in 4-packs and Lagunitas’ “Flight Packs” are 6-packs, so beer lovers get a similar volume as a 32oz or 64oz growler, but with the ability to mix and match beers.
“Instead of just one or two beers to-go, the Flight Packs allow consumers to explore a wide range of IPAs that are typically only in our TapRoom,” says Mark Puente, Director of Retail Operations at Lagunitas. “The at-home flight is enhanced by the wide-mouth Drinktainer format which resembles the aromatic and tasting experience of our 10oz mason jar.”
New To-Go Options Set the Table for 2022
2021 showed a lot of recovery for restaurants and breweries in terms of sales. But, as with everything surrounding COVID, the state of the virus continues to impact consumer behavior. A Global Data consumer survey showed that 50% of U.S. consumers were extremely/quite concerned about eating out because of COVID-19 as of November 2021. There’s also an indication that people still plan to cook at home more than they did before the pandemic; in a 2021 Q4 Goldman Sachs survey, more than 43% of those surveyed said they planned to cook at home more than they used to.
Restaurants and breweries will continue to experience ups and downs in 2022. But it’s clear that customers want to spend money, it’s clear consumers love to-go options, and it’s clear people want the dining and drinking-out experience — even if they choose to recreate it at home during times of high virus spread. Lagunitas and Blue Moon have found that giving people new beer-to-go options is great for business. Taking a serious look at your beer to-go offerings is a 2022 resolution you won’t regret making.