Claudia Saric and Trust20 interviewed Ethanology Distillation owner, Nicholas Lefebre, on how their distillery is handling health and safety, and the creative ways their team is preparing for the winter months. Read more on how this innovative distillery is enticing customers to their space, all while keeping the safety of their staff and diners their #1 priority.
“Safety– in the middle of a global pandemic– is never a bad idea”
Guests of your distillery have said that your health and safety procedures are to be commended, but that the experience at your business is still stellar. How did you combine the two and make it work so successfully?
Every business has their own brand and experience, but also paramount to that for us had to be the safety of our staff and guests - which takes a lot of attention to detail.
Safety was our number one goal, and number two was how we could provide a top-notch experience with a top-notch cocktail program. Watching a true craft cocktail being built is an experience that our customers love and value at Ethanology.
Typically, if it was off-season, our customers would be in line for a cocktail. It has an open-air experience normally, but keeping guests socially distanced was a top priority. And how do we keep people distanced and provide that experience? Through a lot of clear signage and some really useful technology.
Talk to us more about that. What technology did you leverage in your restaurant to help accommodate this shift?
The first thing we had to ask ourselves was ‘how do we get people in line for cocktails, but also keep people at their tables for the longest times?’ I asked myself, 'If i had a high risk family member (which I do), what procedures and policies would make me feel safe at an establishment I myself was visiting?'
We have QR codes, lots of signage, and a virtual waitlist system. We also really amped up our website and started including online sales for pickup which allowed us access to the folks who really weren’t coming out at all, except to the grocery store or the pharmacy. We wanted to make sure we were accommodating ALL people and ALL customers at our business.
We also rolled out cocktail-to-go kits. These have been incorporated into our POS system and our website for patio pickup. Our team has used social media to help promote this new product, all while emphasizing safety with minimal-contact-pickup.
How did you communicate your safety procedures with guests?
We came up with a cover sheet (see below) that was very clear and very nonsensical. We kept a sense of humor about it, but we do take it very seriously
Our business pivoted from people standing at the bar, to people at their tables virtually waiting in line. And the feedback we’ve received has been positive, because customers know there’s a clear line and they can see where they’re at on the waitlist right on their phone. If you want to go up to the bar, you pick one rep at the table to go up to the bar (mask required) and watch the cocktail being made.
“Keeping people safe + the waitlist system = happy customers.”
We tell guests when we first arrive what we expect from them as a customer, where to go, social distancing requirements, and the virtual waitlist system. Once customers arrive at their table, all of the details are written down again - two sheets that are laminated and that are cleaned in between every customer. The whole process is communicated very clearly, from the minute you arrive at the distillery, to the moment you head to your table to sit down.
If I need to remind a customer to maintain social distance, I make it about them and say, “Hey for your safety, we ask that you stand on the social distancing markers.”
Your social media is beautiful. Did you always have a digital presence, or did it really ramp up during the pandemic?
Social media, and especially Instagram, is one of your storefronts, so you need to take it seriously. We had a TikTok video that went viral a while ago, but it was the Yurts and this whole new experience that people really loved.
I think all of the different social media platforms are windows into your business and your brand. What imprint can you leave on your followers in the third of a second it takes for them to scroll through your posts? I personally take a lot of pride in our social media. I see it as a tool to use for the long-term, but the message needs to be authentic and genuine.
We also post our safety measures on our social media handles and make the guidelines very clear so folks know what they’re walking into before they get here. We’ve seen very little kickback from customers.
The Yurts are very popular with customers. Tell us more about what when into creating that outdoor dining experience?
In the words of Chuchill, ‘Never let a crisis go to waste.’ You can find ways to be innovative and incorporate new services. Look at your business holistically and get creative. Do what you do, and do it super well - we’re now better off because of it.
Our Yurt village encompassed all of this. The igloos weren’t our vibe with the plastic, so we were trying to find something else that better represented our brand and we came up with tents.
The yurts themselves, the platforms, and the fire pits cost us around $10K, but we knew people wanted to be outside to enjoy the outdoor experience, so we felt the risk was worth the reward - and it paid off. The yurts are now going to stay post-pandemic. October - March.
They’re inviting, warm and cozy, and there’s blankets, cards, and games in there.
What do you hope for in the future for your distillery, for the industry and beyond?
Early on in the pandemic people came up to us and said “I haven't been anywhere but the grocery store since the pandemic hit, but I trust you and your safety procedures and that’s why I come here.” And that was the number one honor and compliment I could have received. In the end, even if the business failed, I would hold my head high knowing that at the very least, I kept people safe.
Sadly, there will be a failure rate of businesses in our industry. But what I hope is that there will be a renewed sense of agriculture and people staying more inquisitive about what they consume and why it matters. We saw this massive shift to localization and supporting local businesses and I hope that continues.
Is there any final message that you would like to share with other restaurant and bar owners out there who may be struggling?
“If you truly want to make it work, you’ll find a way to make it work.”
If you want to survive, you have to think of every avenue and explore it. I even got on the phone with my local legislatures to talk to them about relief programs for small businesses in my community.The customers are there, you just have to find a way to reach them. Not everything we tried worked, but keeping safety as the number one priority for our customers has been great feedback and has kept customers coming back.
Learn more about Ethanology Distillation.
Trust20 is the new standard of restaurant safety and diner comfort, based on 20 tactics by health and safety experts. Supported by Gordon Food Service and General Mills, Trust20 provides an independently verified certification of restaurant practices, training, and other resources to help restaurants create safe, healthy, and welcome spaces for diners. www.trust20.co, @Trust20USA