How to Start and Market Drive-Through Alcohol Sales

catawba brewery drive through tent

Photo courtesy of Catawba Brewing Co.

The spread of the coronavirus and the measures taken by state and local governments to slow it have begun to take a major toll on businesses in the U.S.  From the cancellation of major events to the closing of food and beverage businesses to dine-in customers in many states, the effects are being felt throughout the country.

Beverage companies, which typically rely heavily on on-premise retail sales, are being forced to get creative amid government-mandated restrictions and shutdowns. Rethinking your business overnight isn’t easy, but rest assured that you’re not alone: Everyone else in your industry is going through the same thing.

Two of the most popular emerging strategies are curbside or “drive-through” to-go sales and direct-to-consumer product delivery. To help you get your drive-through or delivery services started, we’ve compiled a list of steps for each. This post goes over drive-through sales, but keep an eye out for our next post to read about starting a delivery program.

Drive-Through Alcohol Sales in 5 Steps

1. Check your state and local regulations.

Does your permit allow you to sell alcohol to go? Does your permitted property extend to the outside of your facility (i.e. your parking lot)? How strict are your state’s executive orders related to COVID-19? Seek guidance from your state health inspector, alcohol regulatory agency, and industry guilds/associations to be sure you’re permitted to sell products curbside before you set up. In this case, it’s better to ask permission than forgiveness since we don’t know the consequences of disobeying regulations. This is uncharted territory, after all. If you rent rather than own your space, also check with your landlord to ensure they allow curbside operations.

Note: if you cannot sell to customers at all during your local shutdown, consider applying for an economic injury disaster loan from the Small Business Administration to help ease your financial burden.

2. Make sure your POS is set up to sell products to go.

Popular POS solutions like Square and Arryved can support to-go programs, but you may need to make a few adjustments before getting started. Reach out to your provider if you’re unsure how to add the sale of crowlers for products you previously didn’t plan to sell outside of the taproom. Additionally, if you can no longer sell products inside your taproom due to state and local coronavirus-related restrictions, make sure your POS can be used on a tablet or mobile device outside. If you’re a Square user, check out this guide.

3. Decide how you will take orders from customers.

Depending on your team’s bandwidth, you may opt to sell curbside/in-person, take orders over the phone and allow pickup curbside, or set up online sales with in-person pickup (this last option requires an e-commerce website of some sort — providers like Square, Craftpeak, and GoTab can handle this). Decide what will work best for your team and make sure you have the manpower and technical savvy to execute your strategy.

4. Advertise your menu.

You can create your to-go menu on Untappd or your website, write it on a large chalkboard or white board, or get it printed at a local print shop. But no matter where your menu lives, make sure to share it with customers via social media so they know what you’re offering. You could also add the information to your website, send out an email blast to newsletter subscribers, and share the information with local media outlets. This is essential if you’re offering call-ahead orders, but it also helps get customers interested regardless of how you’re selling your products.

5. Set up your table or tent and get to selling!

If your facility is in an area that folks will be walking or driving by, set up a prominent sign to let them know you’re offering products to go. You don’t have to get fancy — a big chalk board or a typed-out message on pieces of printer paper gets the job done. And remember to follow all sanitation guidelines from the CDC to avoid potential spread of the virus (minimizing contact with potentially contaminated surfaces, frequent cleaning, providing hand sanitizer, etc.) — this will help customers feel more comfortable purchasing from you. Restricting payments to cards only (or over the phone/online sales) may also help potential customers feel less exposed to germs, as well as maintaining a distance of several feet between you and your customers whenever possible, whether they are in their cars or on foot.

A couple notes on marketing:

Ask customers for their emails when they come to purchase products so you can remarket to them via email later on. In the forthcoming weeks, you can send email blasts to promote specials, remind customers to restock, or let them know when your taproom will be reopening (once those details are known).

You can also ask to take photos for your social media accounts when customers come by to purchase products to go — this helps build hype and gives you great customer-focused content to promote in your feed.

Want to start delivering products directly to customers? Check out our next post.

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Written by Josh McKinney