The Connection You Can Make on ‘Low Cash-Flow’ Nights

​As sales dip in a taproom overall, what can be hit the hardest is nights that already were considered “low cash-flow” anyway and breweries are making the tough choice to either shut down on those nights or find new ways to make them worth staying open.

Tuesdays or Wednesdays, for example, can be quite slow for many brewery taprooms. But a brewery like Topa Topa in Ventura, California sees a day like that as a way to strengthen its community connection.

​”Weekdays tend to bring more locals and regulars in and provides us an opportunity to make deep customer connections,” said Topa Topa owner Jack Dyer. “Weekends are more of a turn-and-burn scenario. Every day, every dollar is critical right now as we stare down a scary winter.

“Saturdays and Sundays have always been when we do the most business and see the most revenue. That is hyper important right now, but I wouldn’t say that has changed much.​

Pre-COVID Topa Topa would typically book nonprofit events, art shows, or music to help draw folks in. Now, it tends to focus on promoting its food partner and heavily promote takeaway since seating can be limited.

​For Ohio’s Fibonacci, cash flow was really down in March, ​so president and co-owner Betty Bollas ​said they launched drive-thru and delivery a few days before the state of Ohio shut everything down.

“It really helped us get through until we could open on-site again in June,” Bollas said. At the end of November, the Cincinnati-area brewery chose to close its taproom due to a new curfew, a decline in traffic, and safety concerns. The brewery has been doing drive-thru and delivery the entire time and just started shipping within the state of Ohio.

​Fellow Cincinnati-area brewery Brink has ​adopted “socially distanced trivia” to help keep taproom sales up, which has done well​ said founder and owner Andrew McClesse​.

​”​This was probably the biggest change​,” he said.​ “Our to-go sales have been fairly steady and we have experimented with things such as online ordering, curbside pickup, and delivery​.”

But none of ​those activities were particularly productive for ​Brink or raised sales to a level that justified continuation.

​”​These are very labor-intensive activities in terms of delivering beer, monitoring website ordering, etc and it just wasn’t profitable or needed in our case​,” McClesse said.​ “We are a small taproom in a tight community that supports us with takeout without adding additional service models.​”​

​That said, Brink is still down an average of 25% in revenue each week.

Oddly enough, since the pandemic started ​Brink’s weekend sales have taken the largest hit.

​”​For some unknown reason​,​ however, our weekday sales —​ ​in particular, Monday through Wednesday —​ ​grew significantly over our historic averages​,” McClesse said.​ “Our weekend sales have been down roughly 35% over historic averages but our overall drop in revenue has been offset by an increase in weekday business.​”

All of ​these changes impacted staffing needs​ and McClesse said they have been tinkering with scheduling, both in terms of beer production and retail staff​.​

The number of seats is the largest reason for smaller sales numbers in a taproom, not demand or lack thereof, Dyer noted.

“With only outdoor dining available, we are just limited,” he said, adding that Topa Topa has multiple locations, and each of them is down, some worse than others.

“Our expansive outdoor beer garden at our production facility and headquarters is only down about 15%, while we have other locations down as much as 50-60%,” he said. The location that is struggling the most is in a neighborhood designed for consumers to bounce from place to place with large parties.

“Obviously that is not possible right now, and the numbers reflect that,” he said. One of the brewery’s locations with a permanent food partner has been steady and a recently constructed “cowboy sidewalk” allows that location to get back close to normal indoor capacity.

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