Customers don’t want to try something new right now. Sales for well-known brands have sky-rocketed, leaving smaller brands, restaurants, and bars behind.
“People are buying more, but cheaper and commercial stuff. They’re not willing to take a risk and try something different right now,” Juan Quintero, a partner in the liquor store Whiskey and Wine in Manhattan, told The New York Times.
The National Restaurant Association’s survey estimates that the restaurant and foodservice industry lost nearly $120 billion in sales during the first three months of the pandemic, according to ABC News. Eateries and bars raked in $38.6 billion in sales in May, on a seasonally-adjusted basis, but that’s down $27 billion from January and February of this year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Now wineries, restaurants, and bars are trying to recover.
While that picture might feel bleak, there are still ways to engage customers during the pandemic, even if the traditional way of hosting tastings in a liquor store or bar is a no go. Try these tips to bring in new customers during the pandemic.
1. Host a virtual tasting
When vineyards were forced to close their doors to adhere to stay-at-home orders, typical wine tastings became a thing of the past. In many places, indoor dining still isn’t allowed at full capacity. Vineyards pivoted to offer virtual online wine tastings. Even if your in-person tasting room is now open, social distancing measures mean you’re likely not operating at full capacity. Consider offering a tasting package that consists of three to five wines and ship the wines to your customers. Some wineries, such as Charles Krug in Napa, offer private tastings and even have their winemaker join the discussion. Typically, a winemaker wouldn’t be present on the tour, making the virtual event more special. Advertise the tasting on social media to gain new customers.
2. Offer 20% off wine bottles at a restaurant
Restaurants currently operating with outdoor dining or delivery can offer a discount on drinks or a wine bottle to encourage customers. Try something like every Wednesday is 20% off a bottle of wine. This can encourage new customers and increase the average ticket size per table, which is vital if customers are limited. Try promoting this on social media and through signs outside your restaurant. Sometimes, delivery apps can also promote this offer for you.
3. Create influencer relationships
A brand’s relationship with influencers was meaningful before the pandemic, but now you can use them to promote drinking your brand’s cocktail or wine at home. Of all wineries in the United States, a whopping 94% have a Facebook page on the site that boasts 2 billion users. But a brand page isn’t enough; partner with celebrities or influencers to do an at-home cooking segment. The influencer can share an easy recipe to make and discuss how well your brand’s wine pairs with it.
4. Offer pandemic-themed cocktails
Customers love a good pun. Bars in New York City have started offering “Cuomo and Chips” to adhere to the governor’s rule that alcohol can’t be served without food. Think about what your brand can do that’s tasteful but funny.
5. Work with your city to offer outdoor dining
If you did not offer outdoor dining pre-pandemic, now is the time to start and expand. Many cities are working with restaurants to allow additional street dining to expand their footprint and allow more customers to observe social distancing.
6. Serve your drink from a truck near an outdoor park or beach
Before the pandemic struck, Campari, an Aperol maker, turned a traditional Italian scooter into a traveling bar and handed out free Aperol Spritzes in the Hamptons last summer. In 2019, Aperol sales were up 25%, and Campari used this Instagrammable moment to drum up attention for their brand.
“We saw there was a growing interest in Aperol in the U.S., especially at summer events and destinations,” Melanie Batchelor, the vice president of marketing at Campari America, told The New York Times. “We invested behind that.”
New customers will want to see what the buzz is about and, of course, take a picture for their social media while trying your drink.
7. Advertise your COVID-19 precautions
Talking about the pandemic and the possible spread of germs at your location may feel counterintuitive to attracting new customers. Still, for those taking COVID-19 seriously, they want to know they are safe at your establishment.
For example, in Holmdel, New Jersey, Fox Hollow Vineyards posted about 20 rules to their website to outline the restrictions that patrons must adhere to while on-premises. Their patio has been bustling because the vineyard has expansive outdoor space, and the pictures of their outdoor seating look serene.
Domaine Carneros in Napa changed their policy to reservations only and put a blog post up about how they plan to keep customers safe. Do the same for your restaurant or winery by adding a social media post, blog post, or update to your website. Sharing this information will help customers know your establishment is taking the pandemic seriously, and they’ll be safe there. This will also attract new customers, whose favorite establishment may not be taking the same precautions you are.
8. Post on social media
Posting on social media will help elevate most of the tips on this list, but posting alone can help attract new customers. If a new customer is curious about your restaurant or winery, they’re likely to head to social media if they’re a millennial. Show your future customers what your outdoor dining currently looks like, your COVID-19 precautions, and any new drinks or food added to the menu. Seeing beautiful scenery or a delicious dish will help create some FOMO and attract the customers to come see it for themselves.
9. Don’t forget about sports
Sports are back — and people want to watch them outside of their apartments or homes. Put a projector up outside and stream the NBA playoffs and start of the NFL season. New customers will come by, as some restaurants have chosen not to reopen at all yet.
Sometimes it takes money to make money. If customers don’t know you’re open, no one will come. Posting an update to your website, an ad in the newspaper, or paying for a social media campaign to let customers in your area know you’re open will help new customers stop by.