The sad reality for the events industry is that COVID-19 hit us first and will likely hit us longer than other industries. Even once they open the world back up for basic interaction, they’ll still discourage large gatherings, and gathering is what we do.
As we wait, there are two main ways we can maintain productivity. The first way, which many are doing, is pivoting their skills and energy into another business model such as cocktails-to-go, cocktail kits, strategic partnerships with breweries, etc.
The second way, which is what I’m focusing on in this post, is readying your business for the “what’s next.” You don’t have to just pick one of these ways, by the way, so even if you’ve created a pivot plan, you can still make use of the following recommendations.
1) Prepare for this to last way longer than is comfortable.
When they finally DO allow events, it’ll start with events under 50. Then they’ll run with that until they feel safe with events under 100. Only after that will they allow events over 100, but chances are they’ll want to see declining rates of COVID-19 at every step of the way, and what’s likely NOT going to happen is a decline in COVID-19 rates when reintroducing the greater population to each other.
That means we will likely need to adjust our businesses to target micro-events in the meantime. Micro-weddings, small social gatherings, maybe even events spread out over multiple time periods (morning/afternoon splits or back to back days with smaller groups).
There’s no actual way to tell what it’ll look like, but it’s pretty safe to say that headcounts will be lower for longer than we’re comfortable with.
Adjust your business as needed for this alteration in “normal.” What that looks like is up to you. Maybe it’s an expansion so that you can handle more events in one day. Maybe it’s shrinking so that you don’t carry excess equipment and commercial insurance. It may look different for everyone.
2) Prepare to accommodate smaller events without impacting margins.
Obviously if you’re set up to do larger events you can do smaller events, but what I mean by “prepare” is two-fold.
Firstly, you may need to restructure your packages or pricing for smaller events in order to maintain your margins but still be attractive price-wise to events under 50 people.
If your pricing is based per person, you may find yourself working twice as hard and having to do double the events in order to maintain the same margins you had before if you don’t adjust your pricing to package form.
One suggestion I have would be to create packages that target smaller events and include items/services that are high in perceived value, but not low margin for you. Our bar rentals, for example, are high margin rentals. We package our bars with a single bartender and all the necessities together at a price point that’s a few hundred bucks below what we would have had as our minimum in a world we were holding out for and incentivizing larger events with bigger budgets. We’re paying less for staff, and using fewer supplies, so the loss works out to be a wash margin wise.
Secondly, you may need to start offering bartending-only packages if you don’t already. Many hosts will have smaller budgets and may find it easier/more attractive to DIY more of the bar experience than they may have before COVID-19. You can still support them though by offering service-only options.
3) Reach out to all your current event & venue connections. Stay top of mind.
Just a friendly email or phone call checking in on them is all that’s required. It’s about maintaining relationships and reminding them that you’re still around, and you’re still solvent. This crisis is going to put a lot of businesses under, many will shutter. Don’t make your venues and event planners wonder where you sit.
4) Plan to Diversify
If you’re currently focused on corporate events, perhaps try and branch out into weddings and private events. If the opposite is true, try and expand into corporate. If you only offer cocktails and bartending, consider adding equipment rentals, or coffee service. The goal is to increase the number of customers you can target with your services while still staying on-brand.
5) Prepare “Touch-less” service options.
Some event hosts may want to have a bar experience but without a bartender. We can offer that! I can deliver to you coolers with ice, cups, napkins, scoops, mixers, etc and set up an awesome self-service station without needing to buy a single thing. If that’s something that would be of value to someone hosting an intimate event at their home, it doesn’t hurt to add it to my menu of service options, and it demonstrates that I’m trying to stay of service and on-brand during this difficult time.
6) Prepare to take it up a few notches.
You know one thing you can do better at small events than larger ones? Fancy cocktail shit. It’s hard to do things like smoking sage or complex craft cocktails when you’re making 600 of them an hour, but not so bad when you only have 25 guests at your bar. Add a “Fancy Shit” package to your service offerings and cap it at a small number of guests. You can charge more for the premium experience so margins will be good, and you’ll have a ton of fun making those drinks with an intimate group.
7) Prepare to have an insanely busy 2021.
While this is all going to last longer than we want it to, it won’t last forever. Humans are social creatures and they will always gather. Lots of weddings are postponing to 2021, and then there were the brides already planning on 2021. There will be corporate events that are in need of raising morale, and festivals with vendors eager to get in front of the masses again.
Late 2021 will see a ton of demand. Make sure you’re positioned and priced accordingly.
8) Prepare to lean in to the community
We’re all in this together, and the best thing we have going for us is an engaged and supportive community of other mobile bar owners invested in the overall success of our industry. We want people to continue to have faith in mobile bars as being steady and solvent business models, even in difficult markets. The more we help each other through this mess, the more faith our future clients will have in our ability to weather hard times and come out of them ready to serve them. We’re problem solvers, after all, right?
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