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Virtual Happy Hour leads on-trade support initiatives

Published:  19 March, 2020

A new ‘at home tasting’ initiative is looking to support the hospitality industry by encouraging the public to drink at home as if they were at their favourite bars and pubs.

The Virtual Happy Hour is aiming to keep family and friends in touch with each other via video link, while also giving a much needed boost to local businesses during this era of social distancing.

Groups can use any number of online platforms such as Google Hangouts, Zoom and FaceTime and are being encouraged to come together online for a round of drinks. When the ‘happy hour’ is finished, everyone in the group donates then the price of their drink to the group’s favourite bar, by liaising directly with their local pub, bar or restaurant.

Steph DiCamillo May, global advocacy manager at Atom Brands, who is part of the industry-led team behind the concept, said: “Our hospitality industry is more than just food and drink. They are places where communities unite, spaces where people come to celebrate, commiserate and surround themselves with friends and family in the bad times, and the good.

“Social distancing and self-isolation means these occasions are now pretty much impossible, so #TheVirtualHappyHour team want to encourage people to reconnect safely, whilst ensuring we are doing as much as we can to help the bars, pubs and restaurants we love, survive the next few weeks and months ahead.”

As social distancing escalates and pubs, bars and restaurants close their doors, more is being done from within the industry to help venues through the Covid-19 lockdown.

This morning, pub lobby group Camra announced it has joined forces with the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) and Crowdfunder to help pubs, clubs, breweries, taprooms and cider producers as the public follows government advice to stay away from social venues. 

The #PullingTogether campaign aims to publicise ways that pubs, breweries, cider makers and taprooms are staying afloat, such as by launching a new online shop, offering beer or cider takeaways or providing redeemable gift vouchers for locals. It also hopes to put the public in touch with local initiatives in their community. 

Back on Tuesday (March 17) Diageo pledged to cover bartender wages, with a £1m package of support aimed at helping the wider UK on-trade.

Businesses meanwhile are now increasingly pooling their resources to keep engagement going with consumers at home - including a number of virtual tastings. 

This includes The Wine Society, which already hosts virtual tastings every month. By using its social media channels and its online community, the business is now looking to take this further by taking resources from its usual roster of around 150 events nationwide and redirecting them online.

Joe Fattorini among others like LA-based sommelier Brianne Cohen are also looking into holding a number of virtual tastings via the internet.

On a separate note, Harpers has learned that many on-trade businesses are taking advantage of the government’s policy to allow pubs and restaurants to operate in the home delivery market

This may change as employees self-isolate and more restaurant groups and retailers close doors. Home delivery also isn't an option for many on-trade businesses, as off-trade licences are needed to trade this way: though the trade is pressing for this to be relaxed. 

“No business looks ready to roll over and many have taken advantage of the government’s policy to allow pubs and restaurants to operate in the home delivery market,” Andrew Bewes, MD Hallgarten & Novum, told Harpers. 

“However, where restaurants do not have an off-trade licence, no delivery of alcohol is permitted which will obviously have a knock-on effect on the wine industry.” 

By sharing the #TheVirtualHappyHour hashtag online, the group of ‘industry friends’ behind the initiative are hoping that others will come together remotely to stay connected and enjoy social moments while also supporting their local bars and restaurants.

NB: A new Hospitality Workers Emergency Fund has been set up to help hospitality workers – many of which will lose their zero-hour contracts – to pay rent and bills.

The fund is being launched by TiPJAR, a platform allowing for tipped workers to receive and manage tips, in partnership with Hospitality Action, which organises crisis grants for former and current hospitality workers in the UK.