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Heartbreaking Closure of In-House Dining, But Takeout and Delivery are Finally Available

We closed our doors to the public for all dine-in services effective Wednesday, March 18, 2020, and reopened on March 25, 2020 for takeout and delivery service, only. Circumstances required us to make the extremely difficult decision to temporarily lay off the majority of our staff from the brewery, kitchen and front of house. We intend to rehire our previously-laid-off staff and reopen for dine-in service when the COVID-19 pandemic starts to slow down and we are legally allowed to do so.

Lend us your support with these 3 simple strategies

The first and most important way you can support us is by getting out of that stuffy isolation-ward of a house and taking a trip to Prairie Dog for takeout beer or barbecue! Your visit costs us nothing in commissions and gives our staff and owners a well-needed opportunity for face to face contact with our customers (at a safe physical distance), which is really wonderful for morale (seriously, it gets lonely around here with the dining room closed).

Next, check out our online delivery options to order food and beer (or other liquor) straight to your door. Each of these services are painless to set up and use, and ultra convenient on either your smart phone or computer.

And finally, a very effective way to support us is to check out our online store and purchase gift cards and other merch from our existing stock. That means money in the bank for us right now, when we need it the most.

Why COVID-19 forced us to close

There are few reasons why we closed our brewpub for dine-in business and switch to takeout and delivery:

First and most important — it felt like the right thing to do for the well-being of our staff at this stage in the pandemic. People laid off early in such a crisis probably have a better chance of getting something from our soon-to-be-overwhelmed Employment Insurance system, have no incentive to try to come to work sick, can make the necessary preparations for themselves and their families, and are free to self-isolate or distance themselves from other people, which they obviously can’t do in a restaurant setting. For those staff that remained on with us, our takeout/delivery-only operation has a much lower personal risk of infection than dine-in service did.

Secondly, each subsequent public announcement about COVID-19 had already led to substantial reductions in our sales and patronage, which would have sent us into bankruptcy by the end of March had we tried to remain open. We have never been a high-margin business to begin with — restaurants usually aren’t — and our ethical labour practices, high food-quality, and sustainability efforts raise our costs even further, so we rely on a reasonably high level of sales just to break even.

Finally, we’d been closely following the progression of this pandemic since long before COVID-19 was named, and knew that we were about to be subjected to increasingly severe restrictions on our operations. Each announcement would further drop our patronage and ultimately lead to a government-mandated closure of our facility for dine-in eating, regardless. Had we waited until the government forced us to close, it would have been impossible to provide our staff with any sort of termination/severance pay, since we’d have exhausted our working capital by then.

By The Numbers – The Jaw-Dropping Impact of COVID-19 on Prairie Dog Sales

Chart showing drop in Prairie Dog Brewing sales due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Prairie Dog Brewing restaurant sales from mid-February through mid-March 2019 and 2020.

We mentioned earlier that every major COVID-19-related public announcement led to a drop in our sales. Check out the graph above, which compares our daily sales from mid-February forward for both 2019 (blue) and 2020 (orange). The busiest days on the chart are usually Friday and Saturday. In 2019, our sales gradually crawled upward every week during this period, with us having some incredibly great (record) days on the weekends up to and after St. Patrick’s Day. In 2020, mid-February weekly sales had been running another 20-25% higher than 2019, giving us encouragement and demonstrating our business growth year over year. But by late February, COVID-19 was already dominating the news — stock markets were already crashing, Italy had already begun its progressive lockdown. To make matters especially worse for us here in Calgary, crude oil prices started dropping (and haven’t really stopped yet 1-month later).

Chart showing the drop in West-Texas Crude Oil prices during early 2020, which also impacted Prairie Dog Brewing's restaurant sales.
West-Texas Intermediate crude oil prices in early 2020. Source: Macrotrends

As you can see from the 2020 Sales Trend line on our sales chart, dotted in orange, we saw a very disturbing trend emerging as we passed through the first week of March (try looking at only the tallest weekend-sales peaks, the trend was quite obvious). While business had been slower than we expected, it was still at a level where we thought we could survive. Then came March 11, when the World Health Organization announced that they had now officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. That didn’t impact our sales much on the day of, but on Thursday, March 12th, sh*t got real. Several major sports leagues announced that they would be cancelling their seasons, and a news story broke that a child attending a downtown daycare centre had been confirmed positive with the disease. Then came the news about a downtown sports bar closing due to staff having a confirmed COVID-19 infection. To top it all off, the province announced that all public gatherings over 250 people would be cancelled/illegal, and limited restaurant occupancy to 50% of their fire-permitted value. That led to a very slow Friday and Saturday. We’d planned a big St. Paddy’s weekend bash and had to call off most of the staff and close three hours early.

On Sunday, March 15th, the Alberta government closed all schools and daycares for the rest of the school year, which meant that anyone with school-aged children who hadn’t already been scared and anxious was now snapped into the reality of the extent of the pandemic. While we applaud the swift, decisive actions of our governments to keep us safe, this final announcement was a death sentence to the small businesses that rely on hundreds of face-to-face interactions with customers every week in order to survive. Still, we chose to stay open another day or two and see what the impact would be on sales. Keep in mind that throughout this entire period we’d been stepping up our cleaning and disinfection routines, making our staff less efficient than before and increasing our costs of labour and supplies.

On St. Patrick’s Day, our final day of full restaurant operations (Tuesday, March 17th), we were as slow as we had occasionally been back during our soft launch, when we didn’t have signage on our building and almost no one knew we existed. It was like we were a ghost business existing in a world that could no longer see us. We finished St. Patrick’s Day at around a 71% revenue loss compared to an unremarkable Tuesday in mid February. St. Patrick’s Day, a famous drinking holiday! We, like many other liquor-serving establishments, look forward to St. Paddy’s because it could have brought in something closer to 2.5 times the revenue from that same, unremarkable Tuesday in February, in which case we experienced something in the neighbourhood of a 90% revenue loss! That same day, the government further limited public occupancy and gatherings to 50 people, not that it would have mattered to us, as we finally made the call late that day to close our doors and lay off the majority of our staff.

We provide these details because we hope that they help people grasp just how deeply this novel coronavirus has affected us in the span of just 2 weeks, even without infecting any of our customers, staff or owners (as far as we know). We also hope this helps other restauranteurs feel less alone in their struggles, whether they have already had to close or are facing that decision now. Unlike every other problem business has faced since the world wars, the COVID-19 pandemic reaches every corner of the globe and affects us all.

While their efforts are greatly appreciated, businesses like ours can’t rely on the government to bail us out of this pandemic. Calgarians and Albertans have proven to be a strong community that is resilient – we firmly believe we can survive this with support from our community. Please make the effort to call us for takeout or visit us on one of the delivery platforms.

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