‘The public is the big unknown’ — Tri-City breweries cautious about reopening tasting rooms

Forget the board games — hand sanitizer, half-empty rooms and collecting personal information for future contact tracing among new measures to stem the spread of COVID-19 in breweries.

Tri-Cities’ craft breweries are slowly beginning to reopen their tasting rooms as British Columbia enters the second phase of its return to normalcy since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

But expect your IPA to be served with a side of physical distancing. 

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And, said Brittany Laing, at the tasting room supervisor at Taylight Brewing in Port Coquitlam, the vibe won’t be as relaxed and convivial.

“It feels a lot more sterile, a lot less welcoming,” Laing said, adding Taylight reopened its taps on May 19 with its seating capacity cut in half and no more than six people allowed at a table to create more space for physical distancing.

Andrea MacIntosh, at Tinhouse Brewing in Port Coquitlam, said the family-friendly atmosphere at its tasting room might also take a hit as the stockpile of board games that could be deployed to occupy kids while their parents enjoyed an adult beverage and conversation has been removed. She said in addition to instituting all the safety procedures prescribed by provincial guidelines to ensure physical distancing and hygienic practices, they also did a dry run with friends prior to their reopening last Tuesday so they could get an outside look at what works and what could be further refined.

“It’s going to come down to a lot of customer education,” MacIntosh said.

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At Coquitlam’s Mariner Brewing, which has also reopened, customers are required to use hand sanitizer before entering its tasting room. It has had its capacity reduced by half, with tables six feet apart and seating a maximum of six per table. As well, menus are only being used once and then recycled and its windows will be kept open wide to encourage air circulation.

“We cannot stress enough how seriously we are taking all the precautions,” said a statement on the brewery’s website.

Other breweries are taking their time.

None along Port Moody’s renowned Brewers Row have yet reopened their tasting rooms.

Sam Payne, one of the owners of Parkside Brewing, said while all the breweries are in communication with each other about best practices going forward, “we’re all going to open when we’re ready to open.”

He said his team is currently working on new floor plans that will result in about a quarter the number of maximum patrons.

“The safer and more comfortable you can make it, the more positive people will feel about it.”

Tim Forbes, the general manager at Port Coquitlam’s Patina Brewing, agrees. 

“We want to make sure all our procedures are in place before we open,” Forbes said, adding his brewery hasn’t yet determined its timeline for that to happen.

He said besides slashing capacity to half, other safety procedures that are being implemented include the installation of plexiglass dividers at the counter and cash areas as well as assigning a host to the front door to ensure customers waiting to get in maintain proper distancing.

Laing and MacIntosh said staff at their breweries will also be recording customers’ contact information to assist tracing efforts in case of an outbreak.

“There’s way more red tape,” Laing said, adding breweries have to strike a balance between toeing a hard line and maintaining a fun, welcoming atmosphere.

That’s made them wary about how the new procedures may impact attendance at the tasting rooms.

“The public is the big unknown,” MacIntosh said.

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