With bars cratering and patrons drinking in-situ, bartenders are out of a job.
Normally, bartenders are gatekeepers for brands. Their co-sign on a product holds weight—a menu placement will move cases and cases of a product and a simple verbal recommendation can turn a customer into a lifelong fan of a brand.
In 2018, on-premise (bars, restaurants, tasting rooms) represented $147 billion in sales, about 53%, in the United States. Off-premise sales of liquor counted for 47% of alcohol sales, or $113 billion in the United States in 2018.
With drinkers shut-in, alcohol sales are rising (sales of alcoholic beverages overall soared 40% over the week ending in March 22 according to the IWSR), but on-premise is drying up, leaving brands to pivot to direct-to-consumer options.
Despite bartenders out of work and on-premise sales slumping, many brands are staying loyal, using budgets to help bartenders who are out of a job.
A bevvy of brands are donating cash to bartender and restaurant support funds, such as the United States Bartenders Guild and Restaurant Workers’ Community Fund.
Brown-Forman BF.B made a donation of $1-million to charities supporting impacted bartenders. Molson Coors TAP matched that, donating $1-million to the USBG. Diageo has donated $1.2-million in the UK, and Jameson has donated $500,000 to the USBG.
Aviation Gin announced for the next month, 30% of proceeds will be donated to bartenders as a ‘tip’. Mezcal brand Dos Hombres, helmed by famous faces Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston, announced they will donate 30% of profits to the USBG.
Another spate of brands are veering to making hand sanitizer (Vale Fox, Mill Street, Finger Lakes Distillery and the Bacardi group among them), doling out bottles to restaurant workers and hospital staff.
Other brands are getting creative with marketing strategies, pivoting to help bartenders on a personal level. They are buying meals, hiring bartenders for one-off campaigns, funding branded take-out cocktails and hosting cocktail competitions, all with the goal to put money directly in bartender’s pockets.
Ghost Tequila has launched a round-robin style cocktail competition. The founder, Chris Moran, is a bartender himself, and understood the impact the pandemic has on the industry. He created the competition as a way to put money in bartender’s pockets and keep them doing what they love.
For the Ghost Cocktail Challenge, the brand engaged out-of-work bartenders to compete for prizes and cash. They create a cocktail, post it online, and home viewers vote on which bartender moves to the next round.
For every vote, Ghost contributes $1 to the Restaurant Workers’ Community Foundation COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. Participating bartenders receive swag and cash at the end of each round.
“As a small company, we don’t have the millions of dollars that others are donating, but it was still very important to us to do our part to support this community and our friends in need,” said Chris Moran, Ghost Tequila’s CEO and co-founder.
Moran, a former bartender, knows the bartending community’s support of Ghost Tequila has been crucial to the brand’s success. When he saw bartenders are in need, he redirected the brand to jump in and help.
“As challenging as this situation is, it’s truly inspiring to see the way that people all across the countries have come together to help one another,” added Moran. “For example, here in my hometown of Boston, we recently partnered with a local band to broadcast an Instagram Live concert—from their basement—to raise money for a group of area bars and bartenders. Together we brought in over $13,000 in just a couple of hours!”
Brand marketing in the time of coronavirus is unprecedented. A survey by the World Federation of Advertisers showed that 81% of respondents are postponing advertising campaigns due to the pandemic.
57% of companies had cut marketing budgets, while 50% had launched or are in the process of launching new advertising campaigns.
Creative concepts, like Ghost Tequila’s cocktail competitions, are keeping brands top of mind but also allow companies to give back to their community in an authentic way.
Many brands are sponsoring virtual happy hours. Writer Daniella Veras and Jackie Summers, founder of Sorel Liqueur, host a virtual happy hour every evening. Each episode is sponsored by a liquor brand and features a different bartender, who, along with the hosts, talks viewers through cocktail recipes, favorite brands and how to mitigate anxiety.
Cointreau also hosts virtual Cointreau Cocktail Hours, and recruits bartenders to host Instagram takeovers.
Gray Whale Gin is hiring up bartenders to work at their virtual bar—selected bartenders get paid $350 for their ‘shift’. The brand promotes each bartender’s creations on Instagram.
A group of Denver-based creatives, including drinks whiz Elliott Clark of @Apartment_Bartender, teamed up to create the We Create Anyway campaign—aimed at inspiring creativity in a time where storm clouds reign. The movement asks social media users to get creative: be it cocktail making, baking, painting, drawing, or any right-brained activity.
Two winners every week will take home a range of prizes, from $500 cash to varying brand prizes. The movement simultaneously raises funds for industry nonprofit Another Round Another Rally.
So far, William Grant & Sons, Mixers, Levecke,
Seedlip, Celément, Beagans 1806 and Casa Mexico Tequila have jumped on board.
Also in the social media vein, Prairie Spirits is partnering with Instagrammer Brenton Mowforth (@CheerstoHappyHour) to run a contest that supports Toronto’s Patois bar, a strong pre-virus account for the brand.
Whitley Neill is also working with Mowforth. The brand is hiring bartenders to create cocktails—each recipe will be showcased on the popular drinks account, bringing attention to both the bartender and the brand.
Don Papa Rum worked with Brooklyn’s Claudia’s to create a cocktail kit the bar can sell. “Don Papa is looking to be proactive and stay hands-on with the local restaurant community, and Claudia’s is in my neighborhood,” explains Kim Meisner, US brand manager. “Plus, I’m Guatemalan and love the food there. It helped that we already have a relationship with the owners through Midnights and Dolly’s Swing & Dive, which are some of our favorite accounts.”
Through Tanteo Tequila’s “Party in Place” initiative (a partnership with New York City’s Cocktails in Motion and The Wayland), drinkers can purchase a care package (including a 750 mL bottle, artisanal margarita mixes, garnishes and Mexican street papas). They have brought aboard furloughed bartenders and barbacks to prepare the packages and deliver them. 10% of proceeds go towards the Lee Initiative, an organization providing restaurant workers with food and essential supplies.
“These are challenging times for the entire hospitality industry,” explains CEO and master blender Neil Grosscup. “A central thesis to how we run things at Tanteo is that people celebrate with great cocktails in good times and bad. With Party in Place, we are happy to give back to our community and hopefully lift some spirits while doing it.”
Other brands are helping by providing essentials. Grey Goose’s Canadian brand ambassador Stephanie Lamb used her marketing budget to send produce boxes from Mother, a bar-turned-grocery delivery service, to Toronto’s bartenders. Bacardi opened up a tab at local pizzeria: industry members simply put their pie on the tab and the booze brand picks it up.
Across the United States, Topo Chico is sponsoring varying levels of meals for bartenders. In Dallas, the sparkling water brand is working with DFW Eats to provide free high-quality meals from local restaurants to out-of-work hospitality professionals.
While campaigns like these won’t bring in huge sales, they are supporting and solidifying relationships with bartenders. On a business level, the bartenders will be the ones to put bottles up on back bars when the world starts spinning. On a personal level, the industry is a close-knit one, and brands know that bartenders act as its beating heart.