As its home state of Georgia became the first to lift social distancing restrictions last week, Atlanta-based Monday Night Brewing conducted a poll to gauge consumer sentiment toward returning to normal and found that nearly 75% of drinkers don’t expect to visit a taproom until June at the earliest.
“Brewers in Georgia were allowed to open in late April, but it is clear that customers aren’t yet ready to jump in with both feet,” Monday Night wrote in its survey recap.
More than 740 consumers took the survey between April 23 and 24; Gov. Brian Kemp allowed some Georgia businesses to reopen on April 24. Those businesses included gyms, barber shops, hair and nail salons, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors. On Monday, April 27, restaurants, theaters and private social clubs were permitted to reopen if they adhered to social distancing guidelines, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Even after restrictions were lifted, 36% of respondents said they planned to visit a taproom within the first two weeks. More than 40% said maybe they would visit, and 23% said they would stay away for the first two weeks.
Almost 22% of respondents said they expected to return to visiting taprooms in July; 13.4% predicted it would be August or later before they returned to a brewery for a pint.
Monday Night co-founder and CEO Jeff Heck said his brewery has opted not to reopen for on-premise service yet.
“We made the decision early on to not reopen for a couple of reasons: one, we didn’t really feel like it was safe for our employees or for our guests and two, we just didn’t have a lot of time to plan,” Heck said. “And so we felt like this is a really important moment for us to make sure that when we open, we’re doing it in a way that’s safe and that makes people feel safe.”
Respondents ranked state government as the least important source of guidance when determining the safety of returning to bars and restaurants. The most important source was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, followed by respondents’ own research and then the opening of “other establishments I respect,” something that Heck said surprised him.
“We take the decision to open really seriously; it sends a message also to other businesses about what the right timing is,” he said. “We want to be thoughtful about the impact it has on other people’s decisions as well.”
After the reopening of businesses they trust, respondents ranked local government, the advice of friends and family, and the federal government ahead of the state government.
Asked what safety measures they’d like to see taken when a brewery taproom reopens, respondents said regular sanitizing of surfaces was most important, followed by reduced overall capacity and contactless payment options. Least important to them was the checking of temperatures of staff and guests.
“In a lot of the comments that we got back though, it was clear that our consumers certainly have done their homework — ‘yeah, that doesn’t really help though because you can be asymptomatic and not know and be contagious,’” he said, quoting survey responses. “We were a little surprised that was as low as it was. People didn’t necessarily say they weren’t gonna come if we did or didn’t do it. It was just kind of not nearly as relevant as we expected.”
Monday Night is offering drive-thru to-go sales at its West Midtown location, while its Garage location, where the company brews sour beers and barrel-ages some offerings, is closed entirely. Although to-go sales haven’t replaced Monday Night’s lost draft revenue, the results have been “very strong,” Heck said.
“It’s going way stronger than we thought,” he said. “It’s allowed us to bring back five people, so it’s very, very encouraging.”
Customers can add a donation to their orders, which go to furloughed staff.
The survey, which garnered a 35% response rate from the nearly 2,000 recent customers who received it, showed a glimmer of hope: 72% of respondents said they plan to visit brewery taprooms with the same frequency or more than they did before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
“There’s certainly, long-term, I think an expectation that it’ll take a long time to get back to anything that was the levels that we were at before,” Heck said. “But people do want to get back to visiting taprooms again.”
Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson, citing Monday Night’s survey, noted that 35% of respondents did not think they’d return to brewery taprooms until July or later.
“We don’t know what they would have said before this pandemic hit, but that data suggests visits are going to take a while to get back to where they were,” he wrote.
Watson also shared the results of a survey from Datassential, a food and service industry insights firm, that found a generational divide in consumers’ willingness to return to restaurants. Only 10% of Baby Boomers said they would “absolutely dine in right away” when restaurants can offer on-premise dining again, while 25% of Generation Z respondents and 31% of Millennial respondents said they would.
So far, nine states, including Georgia, have lifted some restrictions on businesses. Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker today extended the state’s nonessential business shutdown order to May 18. In New York, schools and nonessential businesses will remain closed through May 15.
The CDC recommends a 14-day decline in the hospitalization rate before an area can begin a phased reopening plan, according to New York’s online COVID-19 resource hub.
The number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. topped 1 million today, with the death toll now at more than 57,800 deaths, according to John Hopkins University.