While shoulder-to-shoulder happy hours, tours and tasting room experiences were pre-COVID-19 signs of successful marketing, such packed-house activities may be less the norm as wineries and craft beverage businesses gear up for full retail once again.

In a Penn State blog on COVID-19 customer issues (psuwineandgrapes.wordpress.com), business owners and managers were reminded that guests now have different views on personal space, crowds and tight spaces. Researchers suggest evaluating interior and exterior spaces for guests who hesitate to be seated shoulder-to-shoulder or standing at tasting bars, several rows of people deep. Even special events, which share indoor and outdoor spaces, may require strategies to limit participants or add social distancing accommodations.

A Washington State University survey noted that the average tasting room size is just over 600 square feet, while many were 500 square feet or less. Sometimes sharing space with gift shops, sales areas, restrooms and reserved seating, tasting rooms can become crowded quickly. And, while online sales may play a part in limiting physical visits, onsite guests may still prefer more personal space.

Depending on the design and style of the winery or bar, creating intimate conversation areas where four to six people can sit, chat and sip can relieve crowded gathering areas. Some businesses, looking to accommodate both the serious aficionado and the casual guest, are designating separate spaces for special events or reserved tastings – each space allowing for less single-room crowds. And, instead of one permanent tasting room bar, retailers are utilizing pop-up tasting areas under tents and on terraces or porches to keep crowds minimized.

The blog pointed to a 2015 survey (Wine Business Monthly/Silicon Valley Bank), which said “average wine purchases were higher for those who were seated at a table or area other than at the bar when participating in a wine tasting.” From the study, average sale prices versus space noted “Private or formal tasting – $392; Casual or group setting – $107; Standing at tasting bar – $75; and Seated at tasting bar – $65.” While sales averages vary across establishments and regions, it is likely that space and its environment are important factors in buying habits.

The meaning attached to personal space has changed with social distancing. Retailers understand that while crowded spaces once equated potential sales volume, visitors may now respond more positively to redesigned tasting and shopping experiences. For businesses depending on tasting room sales, it may be a strong lesson learned.

The above information is presented for educational purposes and should not be substituted for professional legal or business counseling.