Covid-19 has probably been the biggest curse on the food and beverage industry ever since the first commercial establishments or eating houses emerged many centuries ago. Food and beverage is a lifestyle and one of the best medium of socialising, an inseparable human characteristic.
Just the last three months have torn down that delicate fabric by which human beings eat, drink, love and stay at peace with each other! With physical distancing becoming the ‘new normal’ (at least till the invention and administration of an effective vaccine) bars, restaurants, pubs, brewpubs and big social functions seem like a thing of the past.
With no signs yet of ebbing of the contagion, consumers have turned sceptical and wary of exposure to public places. With a deadly enemy that one cannot see, or hear or smell, it is scary to even think of partaking of enjoyment and leisure in a crowded place for the next few months.
For now consumers will stay at a distance, and the complete experience of food and beverages will lose its sensorial attraction, for a while at least. Besides customer spends dipping, most alcobev businesses will have to operate at half strength or less, and job losses and salary cuts are sure to be found around every corner.
Band of Pros
I guess we bartenders missed the bus when it came to working together as a community and the pandemic has proven that point. If we had a forum or an organised group, things would have been much better for the fraternity.
This is something we realised early on, when various liquor brands took initiatives to save the industry and were looking to connect with the community. We are presently working on creating a group that works towards development and uplift of the bar community in India.
Liquor marketers are finding different ways to help bartenders and bar owners stay afloat. This could be a great avenue to come on board and support the cause that will have a positive impact in the long run.
‘Vocal for Local’ is a great thing to happen and it is the future. The trend was already catching in the food and beverage space even before Covid-19 came our way – it has only got more traction now.
The challenge however is: How good is Local? We need more passionate people to take it up and bring about a change in the quality of local products. A challenge for sure, but optimism rules!
I guess the bar industry wants better regulation and ease of doing business. A single window for all licenses and permissions would make it easier for operators and government departments alike. In normal times it would seem like an uphill task; but with the changed circumstances, I am sure such changes are possible.
During the first two months of lockdown alcoholic beverages were not considered an essential commodity. When ‘Unlock’ began in a phased manner, people thronged liquor shops, throwing all caution to the winds – no physical distancing, no donning of masks, no sanitising of body parts or sale premises!
That is why I say that, until we are able to control the spike in Covid-19 cases across the country, home delivery of beer, spirits and wines is a sane and safe alternative. I am also hopeful that, in the long run, this will bring about changes to the existing restrictions on sale of alcohol.
Financially bogged down by the economic side-effects of the lockdowns, governments woke up to the easy revenue from the sale of liquor. Some states used the opportunity to levy higher levies, and Delhi led the charge with a 70% “Covid tax”!
I just hope that the taxation bit does not become a trend to extract more money from the citizens. It is essential to ease excise duties, as that would give some respite to the struggling bar industry. I believe that better sense will prevail among lawmakers and the bureaucracy alike, and things will only get better for the alcobev industry in the near future.
This then brings another thought to mind: What lies ahead? How will the industry survive and what elements of change need to be adopted to stay afloat in these challenging times? Needless to say that maintaining social safety and strictly implementing hygiene standards are basic requirements.
For bars like mine, we have started with packaged cocktail mixers that were hot selling stuff. This allows customers, mostly regulars, to experience their favourite drinks at home, although most may still miss the atmosphere of their favourite bars.
Customisation in the delivery space and quality will play an important role. In fact, as a bar we focussed a lot in our programming of events and, interestingly, we have been able to take a few of them online like our cocktail workshops and bar quizzes. This was purely to stay in touch with a lot of our regular patrons.
Knowledge and skills, on the other hand, have been the flavour for online activities. Bartenders and mixologists have become more active on social media, talking about their experiences and sharing some of their work.
Indeed, my Instagram followers have gone up by 30% in the last two months, purely because of the content and the posts. It does help to shape the culture of alcohol consumption in India!
As a bartender I feel the use of the present day technology and connectivity is going to be the key to success and survival. Social media today is flooded with live sessions and interactions; and this opportunity could best be used by most bar professionals to build themselves and help position themselves well in the bar and beverage space.
When I started my career as a bartender, I was advised by my senior that has stayed very strongly in my mind. He would always say “Work smart, not hard”. This has been my mantra always. In the present circumstances I would say, “Think smart, not think hard”.
I guess no one knows us better than we ourselves; and it is entirely upon us to work on the loose ends and improve in every sense. The last two months have helped me gather more knowledge in the cocktail space through reading, and listening to bar gurus across the world.
It is important to focus on one’s health too, and staying fit is important to hospitality professionals even otherwise. This is the best time to discipline oneself and bring about a positive change toward self-development.
This once-in-two-generations disruption on account of the pandemic has taught me some lessons. I realise that nothing is permanent; but human beings are great initiators and adaptors of change! While innovation holds the key, passion rules the game in every step of our professional development.
Last, but not the least, always believe in yourself and give it your best shot. Remember that no idea is a bad idea, but implementation makes it complete.