What It’s Like Working at a Brewery During COVID-19

A Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative bartender details the challenges and the rewards of reopening
People social distance on Broken Clock's patio during COVID-19
People enjoy beer and live music last weekend on Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative’s patio.

Courtesy Sam Gardner

Ever since Gov. Walz announced that Minnesota’s bar and restaurant patios could start reopening this month, there has been a lot of conversation about what it’s like to go to a restaurant during COVID-19. Jason DeRusha detailed his first post-quarantine dining experience to Cov and Town Hall Brewery, and media outlets throughout the state reported on the expectations of dining establishments and the guidelines that they must follow to reopen their doors.

As someone who works behind the bar at Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative in northeast Minneapolis, reading through people’s experiences was a completely different undertaking from researching the guidelines for going back to a restaurant. I wasn’t only preparing myself for my own first patio outing as a customer. I was also thinking about how my weekend beertending shifts would change, what the transition back into the taproom would be like, and how customers would respond.

It is true to say that working in a taproom during COVID-19 has its challenges. However, with the right attitude, an energetic team, and awesome customers to serve, it’s completely worth it. Below are some take aways from my first weekend back at the taproom.

Reopening Isn’t Easy

For dining establishments, the decision to reopen was tightly linked to keeping employees and guests safe. This was the case at Broken Clock, too. As conversations about reopening began, my team was able to brainstorm and give our thoughts about important policies and practices. This ultimately led to an in-depth 2-hour Zoom training session where our operations manager and taproom manager detailed all the new rules from our COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, as required by the state of Minnesota (you can see the thorough state requirements for dining establishments here).

Sam Gardner, Broken Clock’s event coordinator, sports a white face shield that employees can wear during their shifts at the taproom.

Broken Clock’s plan detailed the usual COVID-19 topics, such as polices regarding sickness and our cleaning regiments throughout the day. Other important discussion items included reservations, contact tracing, and the flow of traffic throughout the taproom.

It was a lot of information to retain. And of course we knew that the situation and guidelines would continue to evolve. Case in point: On the same day as our soft reopening of the patio, Governor Walz announced that restaurants could open indoors, too, at 50% capacity, starting June 10, just in time for our official reopening weekend.

My First Shift Back

My long-awaited first shift was two weeks ago on a sunny Friday afternoon. I navigated the new role of host, welcoming people into the brewery, asking them to don their masks if they hadn’t already, and inquiring if they made a reservation.

Once these two things were addressed, I invited them to follow the arrow on the floor to the bar. To help with sanitization, Broken Clock also adopted beer tickets as a purchasing option, allowing guests to pre-pay for beers with their reservation. By pre-ordering, customers no longer need to touch our ordering pads to complete a purchase.

Working at a brewery during COVID-19: Host stations are new to breweries, but are important to contact tracing.
The host station, set up with hand sanitizer, face masks (on the other barrel not pictured), beer tickets, and an ordering pad

One of my biggest learning curves was finding a way to express a welcoming attitude while wearing a face mask. I forgot that people wouldn’t be able to see most of my face. I discussed the matter with a few people and the friendly consensus was that this is where smiling with your eyes comes in handy. I’m not sure how to get better at this. And my guess is that I’m not the first person to get this comment. I also found out that I’m not the only one who has Googled for advice either: Craft Brewing Business wrote an entire blog about other ways to engage with customers from behind a mask.

Kindness is Key

The best surprise was seeing how willing all the guests were to comply with the brewery’s new rules and process. They were also incredibly patient with me as I navigated the new reservation and ordering software. As a server, there’s nothing worse than fumbling in front of a waiting customer. But everyone that walked through the door was kind, patient, and happy to be there.

One coworker, Seamus, has worked at the brewery throughout all of quarantine. When I asked about how his experience has been as a whole, he immediately praised people’s understanding attitudes and generosity. If there’s one thing all servers want you, the customers, to know about going back to your favorite establishments, it’s that we appreciate you. We appreciate your support, your patience, your willingness to abide by our safety precautions, and your friendly conversation. We’ve waited a long time to get back behind the bar and we couldn’t be more excited to serve you.

Broken Clock Brewing Cooperative. 3134 California St. NE, Minneapolis. For hours and reservations, check out the official website.

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