Side view of beautiful young couple sitting at the table and clinking glasses of champagne. Charming lady enjoying romantic date with boyfriend at rooftop restaurant with night cityscape on backgroundWhile the COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed down purchases of wine and spirits from liquor stores and online vendors, it did eliminate one crucial avenue of beverage sales: restaurants and other social venues. Premium wines have taken an especially big hit, since people tend to order more expensive wine when they go out, but drink the cheaper stuff at home. This shift has had a dramatic impact on the wine industry in the months since the pandemic began.

Even before the stay-at-home orders went into effect, on-premise drinking was experiencing an overall decline. But that may soon start to change yet again. Restaurants in 44 states have reopened, or are set to reopen in some capacity in the near future. While many are still rightfully cautious about the spread of disease, the months of isolation have left others eagerly awaiting the chance to go out to eat and drink, especially taking into account the pleasant summer weather.

Will people risk coming out in numbers this summer for social drinking? And how will outdoor drinking this summer affect the wine and spirits industry? Let’s examine.

Restaurants

The process of reopening restaurants in America has been fairly slow due to the high number of COVID cases. While some countries have had their restaurants up and running for months, the U.S. is just beginning to reopen them. People understand that local eateries have been suffering over the past few months, and are eager to help out with their patronage.

In most states only outdoor seating is allowed, as the open air seems to make it harder for the virus to spread. But even then, the tables must be a safe distance apart. This greatly limits some restaurants’ capacity to seat patrons, but those that are equipped for outdoor dining are finding it to be a huge advantage.

The return of restaurant-goers could breathe some much-needed life into high quality wine brands. People tend to view going out to eat as a ‘special occasion’ that justifies spending more on drinks than they normally would. And with the pandemic making restaurant dining more of an uncommon luxury, those people will likely be even more willing to treat themselves.

Brands that sell premium wines would be wise to focus on selling to restaurants with outdoor tables, at least for the duration of the summer. With more customers than ever trying to support local businesses, it could also pay off to prioritize selling wine in its own home state, and ensuring that it is labeled on menus as “locally made.”

Wineries

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, vineyard tours and other on-site activities at wineries were gaining popularity. For smaller wine brands, those activities could account for a significant portion of the overall profits. But of course, the virus put an abrupt stop to that. Only now are wineries beginning to allow visitors back in, and only under very strict safety precautions.

If conducted properly, in a way that enforces social distancing, outdoor vineyard tours could be very popular once again.  As long as guests maintain six feet of space, and the wine is dispensed in a way that doesn’t allow contamination, there is little risk of creating new COVID-19 cases. Wineries often give out commemorative glasses to visitors as a souvenir. With each visitor using their own souvenir glass, and staff carefully pouring the bottles, wine tours and tastings can be done without guests coming in contact with anything that other guests have touched.

Wineries that previously offered or considered offering tours may want to revisit the idea. Most states still have heavy restrictions in place, but as they start to lift, winery tours and other safe activities could become quite lucrative.

Beer gardens

Beer gardens have never enjoyed quite the same popularity in the U.S. that they do in their native Germany, but in recent years more and more have been cropping up in the states, especially in the northeast. They usually consist of outdoor picnic tables, where visitors can pay to drink a selection of beers, often while enjoying food and live entertainment.

Right now, beer gardens in most states are still closed. Even after they reopen, it may be a while before people feel comfortable visiting them. But hopefully, they will be open in some capacity by the time of their signature event: Oktoberfest.

Of course, a lot of changes will have to be made to the traditional beer garden in order for them to incorporate safe social distancing. In the past, beer gardens have often encouraged a certain sense of community. People were made to sit together at large tables, sometimes with others who they might not know. Unfortunately, this social aspect of beer gardens will likely have to be sacrificed in order for them to reopen. The beer and food will also have to be more carefully dispensed to avoid contamination. But if the proper precautions are taken, beer gardens could be advertised as a fun and COVID-safe activity by the late summer.

Conclusion

The relative safety of outdoor gatherings makes them a tempting attraction, especially during the warm summer months. It is likely that as more outdoor venues for drinking open up that they will start to absorb former barflies looking for a new place to socialize while enjoying a pint. If more restaurants, vineyards, and breweries start to open soon, it could reinvigorate struggling premium alcohol brands. It is still unclear how long the pandemic will last, but if social distancing regulations continue into next summer, outdoor venues may begin to transform the way that we think about social drinking.