Jun 26, 2020 - Politics & Policy

The beer barometer and the reopening of America

Data: BeerBoard; Map: Naema Ahmed, Sarah Grillo/Axios

Microbrews are providing us with macro clues about the state of the U.S. economy — and how confident Americans actually feel about reopening amid the pandemic.

The big picture: The national trend shows that more watering holes are opening up, with 85% of locations open and pouring beer last weekend. And if the bars are open, it's a good sign that those communities have opened up, too.

  • But the glass is half full: In open establishments, only 49% taps are open, compared to 96% last June.

By the numbers: Data provided by the Beer Board, a tech company which helps optimize beer flows in about 1,300 locations including bars and restaurants in 45 states, shows stark regional differences over where draft beer is flowing.

  • In Arkansas, 77% of taps were pouring in locations that were open last weekend; in New Jersey, that figure was 18%.
  • Draft beer flows leveled or declined in some southern states that are experiencing rising COVID-19 cases, while in states where COVID-19 was in retreat, the trend was the opposite.
  • Georgia, which saw a resurgence of cases, was flat at 56% — while 54% of New York's taps were open, up from 36% two weeks before.
Data: BeerBoard; Map: Naema Ahmed, Sarah Grillo/Axios

Why it matters: In this pandemic, economists, investors and policy makers are thirsty for any kind of data they can find, as they try to determine how skunked the economy actually is.

  • Rachael Slobodien, a White House spokesperson at the Council of Economic Advisers, tells Axios: "As the country continues to reopen, one important indicator to watch is data surrounding bars and restaurants.”
  • “The good news is that not only are we seeing consumer confidence return," she said. "Roughly 75% of local food and drink businesses are open and in-restaurant dining has recovered roughly 40% from the pandemic-low.”

Between the lines: The restaurant industry is among the hardest hit by COVID-19, but it is showing some signs that it could bounce back, though perhaps not to pre-COVID levels.

  • More than 6 million jobs were lost in March and April in eating and drinking places, according to BLS data compiled by the restaurant industry.
  • But roughly 1.4 million restaurant jobs were added in May, three times higher than the closest industry.

Reality check: The data from the Beer Board is just a sample, and while they provide services for high volume restaurants like Buffalo Wild Wings and Hooters, the data isn't an inventory of every pint poured in America.

Numbers from Open Table, which give a picture of higher-end restaurants, confirm some of those regional difference, as well as the depths of despair for the bar and restaurant industry.

  • Reservations last Saturday were down 36% in Alabama and 42% in Texas, compared with this time a year ago.
  • In Washington DC, they've plunged 90%.

Be smart: We don’t always drink beer, but when we do, we prefer not to catch COVID.

  • Americans will return to bars and restaurants when they it's safe enough. But so far, there's no last call for social distancing.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Rachael Slobodien's name (not Rachel).

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