Lifting Restrictions and Moving Forward from COVID-19

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From the Tap: Musings from the Taprooms Committee

In our latest meeting, the Taprooms Committee took some time to discuss the current COVID-19 protocols in our different areas of the country and to share stories about how we are moving forward in our own taprooms. Though we span the country geographically, and regulations and restrictions vary widely among us, most of us have seen positive changes resulting from lifted restrictions for masking, social distancing, and reduced capacities, and all are looking forward to a return to some version of normalcy.

In North Carolina, where 100% capacity returned to taprooms “overnight” recently, alongside the lifting of mask requirements for those who are vaccinated, JP Parker of Birdsong Brewing Company in Charlotte felt that customers and employers alike were left feeling a bit confused about policies, but relieved that restrictions had been lifted. At Birdsong, JP notes that many customers naturally continued to wear masks and have even continued with a level of social distancing for some time, which has enabled staff to feel more comfortable through the transition. For JP, trying to make sure the staff of Birdsong gets some time off and is able to maintain a sufficient work-life balance has been a primary focus for the brewery throughout the pandemic, and continues to be as the transition back unfolds.

In the small community of Kodiak, Alaska, Ben Millstein of Kodiak Island Brewing notes that while he has yet to see a return to 2019 traffic levels, things seem to be getting back to normal. In a community that is almost fully vaccinated, locals rarely wear masks these days. Now, the taproom at Kodiak Island tends to only see tourists wearing them, and for Ben, any tourist, whether masked or not, is a good tourist!

Much like JP, Betty Bollas of Fibonacci Brewing Company in Cincinnati, Ohio felt confused by the quick rollout of back-to-back announcements that happened at the end of May and early June. Without clear guidance from the government, her staff decided to continue their mandatory mask policy, at least for a while, for customer comfort. Throughout the pandemic, social distancing has been difficult in their small taproom, but she continues to check in with staff regularly to see how they are feeling and to ensure that everyone is transitioning to the new regulations comfortably.

At Switchyard Brewing Company in Bloomington, Indiana, Kurtis Cummings notes that while his county lifted regulations in late May, it feels like it is taking quite a while for “things to unwind.” He has focused his efforts on trying to encourage everyone that vaccines do work, and reminds his staff and customers that they’re just putting themselves and others at risk if they come into the brewery unvaccinated.

“It was a little bit of a relief to not have to police our staff once everything changed overnight,” claimed Michelle Yovich of Mountain Cowboy Brewing Company in Frederick, Colorado. Unfortunately, however, the lifting of the mask mandate caused some tension between her staff and some customers who disagreed on the idea of masking in general. Likewise, the difficult decision on whether to bring back bar service or not brought opposition between members of her staff. For the time being, they have decided to split up staff roles, allowing staff members to work where and as often as they are comfortable. Michelle notes that among her employees, opinions on masking and vaccination vary greatly, making it more difficult than usual to manage taproom staff relationships.

Here in Reston, Virginia at Lake Anne Brew House we also went from total restrictions for masking and social distancing to zero restrictions overnight. We have engaged our taproom staff to be part of the conversation on all of our new policies throughout the pandemic, so this was no exception. To make sure they were all comfortable, we continued mask usage for both staff and customers for a week or so beyond the mandate lift, then evolved to a mask-free policy for those who are 100% vaccinated. Giving staff time to transition slowly seemed appropriate for our taproom, and I believe our customers appreciated it as well.

As we continue to evolve beyond this pandemic, I remain curious to see how restrictions will lift, return, ebb, and flow. Many of us were fortunate to receive temporary extended service perimeters, delivery licenses, off-premise or “carry out” licenses, and other boosts from our state regulatory agencies. While some states have made some of those changes permanent, others have given no indication of such, leaving us to question whether the rugs will be pulled out from under us as quickly as social distancing requirements and mask mandates disappeared last month. Regardless of that outcome, I continue to remain hopeful that we’ll all soon return to the best parts of our pre-pandemic businesses, perhaps even made better by the fortitude and strength we’ve gained in these last 18 months of survival.

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