Nothing will make up for not having customers, but there are things you can do to build your brand and open up new avenues of revenue – if not for now, then later. Hamish Smith hears how to make the best of a bad situation...


That bottled cocktail business you knew was a good idea just became a great idea. Clearly, social distancing in the workplace has to be a consideration, so don’t go industrial with an assembly line of side-by-side bartenders, but (at time of writing) there is nothing stopping you creating a delivery service for your products. As travel restrictions tighten, hand delivery becomes difficult, so think about making it a more formal model, using delivery companies. Deliveroo is the way Ladies & Gentlemen has chosen and it has found a market not only for its cocktails but its juices too. Handy, says founder Willy Borrell, for the summer months, when basement bars often suffer. The Sun Tavern (and Umbrella Brewing) has found UPS to be a better option for its beers and bottled cocktails. Hacha in Dalston is using DHL for its Cocktail of the Year Mirror Margarita. Berry & Rye in Liverpool was one of the first to get this up and running but a week in – and with some very useful business earned – it decided to “furlough” delivery operations. Owner Danny Murphy told Class that, while it was a good exercise, it felt that with the bar business secured in the short term thanks to government intervention it wasn’t as essential as it once was. He says it will return in the future. So whether the time feels right, it might pay to plan your website, recipes and bottling operation for this now though. As we gain our freedoms again in the weeks or months ahead, the relaxation could well be staggered – hospitality venues might be some of the last businesses to reopen.

Gift vouchers

If you haven’t already introduced gift vouchers, it’s a good idea to start. Your customers won’t much like the idea of your bar closing down indefinitely. If you can convince them to put a deposit down on their appreciation, that’s cash into your business when you need it most, redeemable when your business is making an income. Offer something extra: a discount or an extra drink or something more creative that has genuine value to customers. Whatever the circumstances, people like to know they’re getting bang for buck. And don’t have a time limit on redemption –  it just pisses people off.

Leveraging your brand

Perhaps you don’t have the capacity, knowhow or equipment to suddenly batch cocktails and find a route to market and perhaps it doesn’t make sense for your business model. There is another model to look at too. Highball Brands is launching a cocktail delivery service. Bringing some of London’s best bars back to life, the bars involved will be creating a cocktail menu that will change on rotation. Highball Brands will also be inviting bartenders to become Delivery Tenders to help deliver the final products. You provide the recipes, Highball pre-batches using its brands, distributes to the consumer, and at the end of the day a percentage of the money is shared among the cooperative.

Empirical Spirits from Copenhagen has released a series of bottled cocktails that can be shipped globally for free via its web shop. ES x Lyaness uses a recipe from Ryan Chetiyawardana and is the first of a series. Many more such opportunities will come online. This may be the best and easiest way to build your brand and get your cocktails to market.

Building your audience

Promoting your skills, drinks and venue through online masterclasses and virtual happy hours serves two purposes: keeping your brand relevant among consumers and building your audience for the future. Utilise your own social media, sure, but think wider too. Offer your services to channels such as Hospo Live to broaden your reach. Or, if you are lucky enough to link up with a brand, that could mean cash into your business, plus you will benefit from your combined audiences.

The UK drinks industry has long anticipated the moment that cocktail- making at home becomes a significant trend. Early indicators suggest the off-trade and e-commerce will boom over this period and consumer behaviour will change. The combination of spare time and the desire to replicate hospitality experiences is likely to lead to the forming of new habits, such as cocktail- making. We could be at the precipice of a watershed moment. This, counterintuitively, will mean more interest in and understanding of what you do. We saw this in the ’90s in cooking as TV shows and latterly online demos fired a movement. That movement didn’t cannibalise the restaurant market, it propelled it to unprecedented success. So engage, inform and show the world what you do and why you do it. You are building the audience of the future. Tip: keep the drinks simple and – as many are already – draw from what people are likely to have in their fridges and cupboards. Don’t give customers Masterchef the Professionals when what they need is Ready Steady Cook.