Get ready, says Danny Murphy of Berry & Rye Group, the 2021 customer is excited, rusty and coming your way.

“I’m great! I’ve got that ‘excited/scared’ feeling. Like, 98% excited, 2% scared. Or maybe…98% scared, 2% excited; but that's what makes it so intense!”. So says Owen Wilson’s excellent (and criminally underused) character Oscar in the movie Armageddon, just before he and Bruce Willis’ band of merry men blast off to save the world from the film’s antagonist, a huge asteroid on a collision course with Earth.

I was surprised to be struck by this same ambivalence on hearing the long-awaited dates that will guide hospitality’s reintroduction to the world. Surely, we should all feel nothing but pure unbridled joy? At least a wave of relief? It certainly shouldn’t have summoned the sound of Oscar’s southern drawl searching his soul while strapped to a rocket. What was ‘scaring/exciting’ me? What was the ‘asteroid’ in my mind? I was wondering about what behaviour to expect from the customer that will walk through our long-closed doors, and the capacity of our team to deal with them.

I know it’s been a while since you’ve encountered one, but the “Christmas Drinker” springs to mind. Why? Well, while you might think the 2021 customer will be nothing but a pent-up wave of positivity, there are similarities. Unused to drinking in venues and paying city centre prices? Check. Likely to start drinking earlier and become a liability later, post euphoric peak? Check. Has binge watched Mad Men and is determined to drink boozy classics? Check.

Today’s customer has been getting their lockdown booze fix from the local supermarket or off license, and apparently is drinking just as frequently. Pre-Covid, 58% of people drank alcohol on a weekly basis. But even with bars closed, that number is at 57%, according to CGA data. Not just beer and wine, either. One in two cocktail drinkers have been drinking mixed drinks at home during lockdown. This should bode well for post-lockdown alcohol tolerance and tastes. However, I think it’s safe for us to assume these behaviours typically didn’t stretch to consuming Espresso Martinis at 2am in order to extend a postprandial drinking session, after a melange of mixed drinks and a day in the sun.

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The other source of my fear is the other element to the equation here: us, the bar managers, bartenders and servers. Normally, when faced with the prospect of the Christmas Drinker, we are match fit, prepared and ready. We have served plenty of customers in a non-festive state. We have dealt with busy nights and bad manners. Not now, though. When was the last time you were on your feet for eight hours straight? When was the last time you carried a tray full of drinks over your head across a packed dance floor? When was the last time you were voluntarily awake after 3am? Let alone awake at the end of a 10hr shift, having to explain to someone old enough to be your dad who is yelling at you for “Guinness” that you’re sorry but you can’t serve him because it’s past closing time, and besides, you don’t sell Guinness. Do you see? Right now, we are unprepared. Right now, we are Bruce Willis’ band of merry men. And I worry about that asteroid coming our way.

So, how to avert Armageddon? Firstly, you can read my previous article on being ready for the end of lockdown. Secondly, be mindful of all of the above. Be aware of the likely emotional state of your customer, and yourself. Finally, there is a solution I find is effective in conflict management. When faced with that intoxicated, irate person old enough to be your dad, just imagine they are your dad, mum, brother, sister, partner, or friend. Give them a familiar face, and it will be easier to separate the person from the problem. It might not save the world. But you’ll be a hero all the same.