1. Why set up a beer festival in these uncertain times?
We felt the timing was right – there had been no beer festivals since the beginning of March – and we have the space to provide social distancing – almost 5000 sq.ft of indoor and outdoor space. We knew we could do it – we had the team, we had the location, we had the beer! The community was desperate to get out of the house and reconnect with their friends and family in a safe, secure and relaxed environment whilst enjoying some of the best beer from around Britain.
2.How did you organize a beer festival? were there any difficulties?
Organizing a beer festival (even in “normal” times) is difficult. Not only were we dealing with COVID-19 restrictions, but this was our first ever beer festival. We knew it would take a lot of planning, determination and support to pull it off, but we were hugely confident.
We initially spoke to a number of people we knew who had previously organised Beer Festivals to get their thoughts. Did they think it was a good idea? Did they think there was a demand? Would people come during COVID-19 times? Their input was positive, so we scoped out the project understanding the Government guidelines. We worked with Surrey Heath Council and the local police to establish the operational requirement. Our 9-page Risk Assessment was authorised by the Council and the Police so we knew we could deliver.
We used our social channels, email and word of mouth to spread the word. The reaction from the community was amazing. We were sold out on 5 of the 6 sessions and out of the 45 cask and keg beers we had available, very little was left when the festival was over.
3. How did you make sure everyone was safe in this Covid era?
Adhering to social distancing rules was always going to be one of the major pain points. Given the current conditions, this would be unlike any other beer festival anyone had ever been to.
All the staff wore masks (apart from those who were exempt). We took temperature checks at the entrance. The bar was closed off and all drink orders were made taken by a dedicated team of servers. We made sure to keep 1m social distancing rules in place, kept the number of households per table to 2, and placed sneeze screens in between guests who sat at the same table who were from different households. Payment was made through tokens. The only way to purchase new tokens was through contactless transactions.
We also set up a one-way system, which meant there was a safe flow of traffic up and down the mezzanine bar and outside. Toilets were limited to one person and we rented 4 additional outdoor toilets to accommodate the increased capacity. Even the music was specifically chosen to ensure the vibe was kept positive and upbeat but also controlled. As much as we wanted a rock band, we choose an acoustic guitar duo and a soul singer who played feel good classics and slower paced melodies, which the crowds thoroughly enjoyed.
4. How well was your festival received?
This was the first-time Ascot Brewing had ever organized a beer festival and we’re happy to say it was a great success! Guests praised our ‘Best of British’ beer selection, loved our Ascot and Disruption is Brewing range, were very complimentary of the staff and service, and were happy with the socially distancing measures we had in place. A number of people personally thanked us before they left, and many others left comments on social media and via Facebook. We had lots of local guests but also had attendees from further afield – some as far as Stratford-upon-Avon and Welwyn Garden City!
We ran a quick survey after the event to gauge our attendees’ beer festival experience. Over 50 people responded within the first 2 days and overall we received 4.8/5 for the Ascot and Disruption beers we had available and 4.9/5 for staff and service. Some of the comments from the guests include:
• An amazing selection of ales to try. A great event, very well organised and would definitely go again!
• Excellent festival. Great Beer - Great Service - Great Pizzas
• Well Organised. We had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. Look forward to the next one.
• I really thought this was going to feel awkward & stilted, but the atmosphere was amazing, After months locked down it was a pleasure to see people enjoying themselves & interact with friendly & attentive bar staff. Everyone I spoke to knew & loved what they were selling which made it a pleasure to take a chance on unfamiliar stuff. Excellent afternoon & our friend who travelled from Kent is already asking when the next one is! Thank you all !!!!!!!
5. What was it like being at your first beer festival in over 6 months?
As we were the ones organizing this beer festival, it definitely wasn’t as relaxed as other beer festivals we’d been to! But the team did everything they could to create an exciting, fun and memorable event that would put a smile on our guests faces after spending so much time indoors and away from their community. It was one of the best Bank Holidays we’ve ever had – the beer was flowing, the atmosphere was amazing, and the weather was…well…back to normal.
We believe that when great beer and great people come together special moments happen. The Socially Distanced Beer Festival was certainly one of those moments.
We’re already planning our next beer festival; Oktoberfest 9th-11th. If people want to come along they should sign up to our mailing list to stay up to date with announcements, tickets and special offers. Tickets will again be limited as we comply with covid-19 guidelines.
With thanks to Chris Davies and Ascot Brewing Company for their insights