The day that The Exchange Brewery in Niagara-on-the-Lake decided to pivot from taproom service to offering at-home beer delivery, events manager, Kathryn Dodington took a quick, survey of her fellow staffers. “Our tasting room manager was self-isolating because she was feeling under the weather, our sales rep was dealing with licensee issues, and the brewers were making beer, so I was the one left.”
“Let’s jump to it and find a system,” she said, and volunteered to do all of the beer deliveries. In less than 24 hours, the brewery added a home delivery option to their online shop. The next day, Kathryn was on the road, dropping boxes of beer to houses and apartments in Niagara Falls, Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Catherines.
Across the province, thousands of brewery employees, from taproom employees, to graphic designers, to VP’s of Sales, and sometimes owners, have turned into beer delivery drivers in an effort to keep the lights on at their breweries — at least for a few more months.
Most have volunteered for the positions— and they feel grateful to be getting a paycheque, especially since most breweries have laid off between 80 and 90 percent of their staff. Ethan Berney, a 39-year-old restaurant and beer industry veteran, works in the taproom and runs events at Henderson Brewing in Toronto. Henderson is paying him is higher event wage, and he’s grateful to be employed as his partner, who works in beer and restaurants, was recently laid off.
But does he feel safe, having so much interaction with the public? One government study found that couriers have similar exposure risks to COVID-19 as cleaners and garbage collectors. “I actually volunteered to be a driver because I feel it’s safer than working in the taproom bottle shop,” says Berney.
Gord Auld, the Graphic Design, Illustration and Marketing Coordinator at Guelph’s Wellington Brewery, who does daily deliveries for the brewery, agrees. “It’s health care workers and first responders who are really putting their safety on the line,” he says “Delivering beer is safer than having people come into the store and buy it.” In fact, Wellington closed its bottleshop and instead allows people to pick up at an order window to limit contact.
Over the last two weeks, breweries have fine-tuned their delivery practices putting a no-contact system in place. All three drivers that we spoke to call the customer when they’re a few minutes away from the home, to verify their identity. Once that’s done, they drop the package at their front door, asking the customer not to come outside, or if they live in an apartment building, meet them out front or in the lobby.
If a person looks under 25-years-old, photo ID checked either by asking a customer to show it to the driver through a window, or sometimes beforehand by sending a photo when the customer places the initial order. No one requires a signature, instead the invoice is packed into the order.
The drivers all wear gloves for beer handling, which do not touch interior surfaces of their vehicles. The vehicles are wiped down with isopropyl alcohol prior to their delivery runs, and in some cases, in between each run.
“It’s been pretty smooth,” says Dodington. “There are a few people who want to come out of their houses and say thank you, but I maintain my distance. Other people have taped big Thank You signs in their windows, and that’s really nice to see.”
The breweries are trying to compress delivery times both to limit exposure to outside world – and enable workers to get their other jobs done. “Our whole taproom has turned into a fulfilment centre to build orders,” says Ethan. Orders are split up into two or three different parts of the city and their logistics coordinator routes everything from there. “I pick up at 10 a.m., it takes about an hour to pack up the VW Golf and I try to be back between 4 and 5:30, after doing between 18 and 25 deliveries,” he says.
Dodington’s day is shorter — she picks up same-day orders at 1 p.m. and delivers them between 3-6 p.m. daily, seven days a week. On busy days the brewery will bring in an extra driver.
Many of the drivers at breweries, including Dodington and Auld, are part of a skeleton staff, so they’re working seven days a week and keeping up with their other work when they’re not on the road. “It’s one of our biggest times a year for product launches,” says Auld, “so I’m trying to manage that and keep up with deliveries.” Meanwhile Dodington has spent most mornings cancelling and postponing private events and festivals.
At the moment, the grind has no end in sight. “We expect this to go for at least a couple of months,” says Berney.
In the meantime, he’s trying to enjoy seeing new parts of the city, deep dive into Spotify’s playlists, help his employer and protect both his customers and himself. “If I hear a person maybe cough inside, you see me moving back to the curb pretty fast,” he says.