If you dig your local beer scene... I mean if you really value it, it’s time to show it. In periods like these, businesses geared for volume and an expedited experience have an edge. Drive through windows, curb-side pick-up, and advance online payments are game changers under limited or no contact parameters. Many hospitality businesses with square footage dedicated to an immersive experience and personal interaction, in addition to their product, simply aren’t going to transition seamlessly to the type of exchange required by our current environment. I know this because I’ve been keeping in touch with friends in hospitality around the country. I know this because I’m living it.
We consumers, in recent years, have had an embarrassment of riches in options to meet our increasingly finicky fancy. That breeds a sort of selective instinct. That’s fine and good: cultivating discerning taste is part of the cycle. However, this can become an activity for its own sake. Now is a time to consider what one really, dearly values and what market segments facilitate that. To be blunt: there will be attrition. There is already attrition. So, if your local breweries are busting hump to keep you in supply, respect that and reciprocate.
It is true that a boom in hospitality has generated more seats than there are rumps to warm them. There was going to be attrition anyway, yes. Of course there’s the old argument that markets correct. There’s another old line that, in said correction, one votes with their dollars.
See, current constraints will spur correction in ways alternate to how things would have otherwise unfolded. Take the anecdotal example of my two friends from school. Both are crafty in the operation of multi-unit hospitality companies. One has drive-through windows and is humming along at seventy-five percent of BC (before Covid) sales figures. Very good, relatively. The other has much more space dedicated to dine-in (and brewing equipment), and is on standby. Generating revenue, even fractional, at a time like this a huge advantage in the end. Bear in mind most local places aren’t geared for volume in the same way as the big boys. I’m not here to remind anyone of any moral imperative to maintain a localist ethic. I’m totally prepared to remind people what it was like in a landscape dominated by unwavering worship of economies of scale: products crafted not to impress, but to not offend. Bleak. Reflect, for a moment, on how far we’ve come.
Furthermore, like everyone else, little breweries are going to have to postpone or forgo seasonal events… that they probably depend upon and likely have invested in. Perhaps I’m taking a little to dour a tack here. A silver lining is, little breweries were already great at sanitizing stuff. Plus, if one is to be cloistered in one of any number of aggravating scenarios, well then, one probably desires a leisurely drive… and a stock of particular quality to sharpen the mind to the silver linings of this situation.
Bert Mattson is a chef and writer based in St. Paul. He is the manger of the iconic Mickey's Diner. bertsbackburner.com.