Online Tech Trying to Help Fort Myers Brewing Stay Normal

Fort Myers Brewing has become well known in the area for its Thursday night food truck rallies. The Florida brewery hosts about a half dozen trucks and features live music.

Last Thursday as the global pandemic of COVID-19 started to hit the United States, Jen Whyte, a co-founder of the brewery didn’t want to officially cancel the event, so they took it online.

A virtual FMBrew experience came together, advertised as, ‘pick up a 6-pack, food from one of three food trucks … and take it home,’ Whyte told Brewer.

“Turn off the 24-7 news, and turn on Facebook Live at 7 p.m. for 30 minutes to relax, have dinner with your family with “live” music streaming from our empty taproom,” she said. “The idea was to give everyone a concert at home via Facebook Live with the opportunity to donate straight to the musicians — who have lost all of their gigs overnight — and also support local food trucks and local brews.”

​That’s just one way the brewery is looking to “stay​ the norm” through this time. At the time of the interview with Brewer, Whyte said the brewery is selling to-go product from the taproom while its distributor, JJ Taylor, is still picking up and selling packaged products to off-premise locations.

“As of now, Florida does not allow breweries to deliver to homes, etc.,” Whyte noted. “We have converted our taproom into to-go and/or drive-thru service.”

Patrons can call in large orders ahead of time so that the brewery has everything ready to go when they arrive.

Whyte added that Fort Myers has removed most — and in some transactions, all — touchpoints in its taproom.

“Our roll-up doors are open so there’s no door handle to touch, we have five blue Xs on the ground to keep people six feet apart and ask if those spots are taken, patrons wait in their car until one of the spots open,” she said. “We’ve moved our credit swipe machine to the front of the bar so that our bartenders do not have to handle credit cards. If patrons bring their own pen, they can sign the credit card receipt without touching one of our pens. If payment is made online, we will bring the order out to the car and put it in the car. One of the few exceptions to a touchpoint is verifying some one’s age — in that case, we do need to see an ID and look for raised seals, etc.”

The brewery is still packaging beer that is currently in tanks. Whyte said they had can and bottle releases scheduled during this time and are still pushing forward with the releases as to-go only options.

“As of now, we are still brewing, however, at a lesser pace than normal for this time of year,” she added.

Whyte did say that the first goal has been to make sure the 18 employees have health insurance through this crisis.

“We are a small brewery … which means by law we do not have to provide health insurance, however, we made the commitment last year to ensure our staff and that has become our first priority,” she said. “With that, my husband and I have decided to forgo our salaries for three months — we are fortunate to be in a position to do that — and to date, we have laid off one employee with the agreement to pay him a severance of the equivalent of his COBRA payment for two months.”

To cut spending, salaried staff is taking temporary cuts to pay as well.

Any ​profit from ​T-shirt sales is being used to bolster bartenders​’​ tips.​ The brewery switched its Facebook cover photo to include its slogan “The Best Beer You Will Ever Drink in a Parking Lot” with “in a Parking Lot” crossed out and the words “in Your Driveway” underneath​​ to indicate the to-go status of the brewery.​

​Whyte said T-shirts made with this artwork right now and a portion of the proceeds from this specific shirt will be donated to charity.

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