From the Tap: Musings from the Taprooms Committee
In our first meeting of the new year, the Taprooms Committee spent some time discussing staffing shortages, hiring troubles, minimum wage increases and our current status of operation at the onset of 2022.
In California, and many other locations across the U.S., minimum wages increased as of the first of the year. At Topa Topa Brewing Co. in Ventura, Jack Dyer notes that California’s new $15 per hour minimum wage, as well as minimum salary requirement, didn’t cause much of a change for his brewery, as they were already close to that pay rate before the changes went into effect. They already track hourly wages through their point of sale, and distribute and disburse their tip pool directly into their employee’s paychecks, thus allowing their employees to include tips in their 401(k), for instance, and elevating their “beertender” positions to something that feels to their employees more like a career position than a part-time job.
At Mountain Cowboy Brewing Company in Frederick, Colorado, Michelle and Ron Yovich have always paid their staff just a little bit more than the Colorado minimum wage for tipped employees. They have been fortunate to have a strong pool of candidates when they’ve needed to staff up, but admit that they do have some slow nights these days. Regardless, they keep two people on shift at the taproom at all times, so no one is ever working alone for safety purposes. As they gear up to open a second location, they are hopeful that staffing continues to be consistent for them, and that their good fortune with great employees will continue.
While we’re on the subject of new locations, Mountain Cowboy isn’t the only Taproom Committee member brewery who is expanding. As South Lake Brewing Company in South Lake Tahoe, California looks to open its second location, and with current employees testing positive for COVID-19 over the past few months, Nicole Smith is struggling to find operations staff, including a new head brewer. She notes that it has seemed hard during the pandemic to maintain a feeling of loyalty among non-front-of-house staff.
Likewise, at Birdsong Brewing Company in Charlotte, North Carolina, JP Parker also notes that, in addition to the COVID-19 issues she shares with others, Birdsong is struggling with part-time people moving down to just a couple of days a week due to other jobs where they can make more money. While her employees are loyal and tend to stay with the brewery because of the beer and culture, it can be difficult for them to make enough money for the brewery to compete for their time with the other places they work.
Whether your state minimum tipped wage remained at $2.13 per hour as it did for Katie de la Rosa at Faubourg Brewing Company in New Orleans, or jumped to $11 or $15 as it did in Virginia or California, one thing is for certain…As Holly Redding of Winchester Brew Works in Winchester, Virginia states, regardless of what you pay your team, “Business has definitely been going up and down with this (Omicron) variant,” and that makes things tricky. As she has just a couple of full-time, loyal bartenders who have been with her for years, she knows that any issue with COVID-19 exposure could be show-stopping for her team and brewery. With a small team comes big concerns for health, safety and welfare. For Andy Skelton of Third Space Brewing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, it’s no different. In his city, minimum wage is still set at $7.25, however a third of his staff recently tested positive over the course of three days, forcing the brewery into a full quarantine period. He’s feeling optimistic as things turn over in the new year, though, and knows he’ll soon be gearing up to hire more help for the busier summer months, while remembering to always prepare for what he calls the “oh, crap” moments.
From way up north in Kodiak, Alaska, Ben Millstein, owner of Kodiak Island Brewing Co., is chugging along for winter, keeping his eye on the market for employees in his area, and figuring out who exactly he is trying to attract to his brewery. For Ben, paying his employees well has always been a top priority, but he notes that he’s feeling “squeezed by rising costs of shipping, ingredients, etc., (and has) had to raise prices to continue making a profit.” While he hopes it doesn’t drive away too many customers, he realizes it may just be the reality of doing business now and in the future.
Even on slow taproom days, at Lake Anne Brew House here in Reston, Virginia, we make sure our employees always earn the guaranteed minimum we’ve assigned for them. If we have a slow night and tips are low, the company tops off our employees’ daily earnings to ensure that no one goes home with less than their guaranteed amount, which we always maintain well above our state’s minimum wage. It’s one way we work to keep our staff happy and well paid during the slower winter months at our taproom. And we too, like most everyone else, are also dealing with COVID-19 positive tests, close contacts, and concerns over exposure.
It’s a new year, which will have its share of new concerns, but with it comes new hope and lots of contemplation about the past two unprecedented years for all of our small businesses.
The Taprooms Committee is:
- Betty Bollas (Fibonacci Brewing Co. – Cincinnati, Ohio)*
- Katie de la Rosa (Faubourg Brewing Co. – New Orleans, La.)
- Jack Dyer (Topa Topa Brewing Co. – Ventura, Calif.)
- Ben Millstein (Kodiak Island Brewing – Kodiak, Alaska)
- Jacqueline “JP” Parker (Birdsong Brewing Company – Charlotte, N.C.)
- Holly Redding (Winchester Brew Works – Winchester, Va.)*
- Melissa Romano (Lake Anne Brew House – Reston, Va.) *CHAIR
- Andy Skelton (Third Space Brewing – Milwaukee, Wis.)
- Nicole Smith (South Lake Brewing Company – South Lake Tahoe, Calif.)
- Jon Wright (Redbeard Brewing Company – Staunton, Va.)
- Michelle Yovich (Mountain Cowboy Brewing Company – Frederick, Colo.)
*Brewers Association Board of Directors Taprooms Representative