Part 1: Sending Your Staff into Safe Space with Left Field Brewery


Beer festival season is upon us!

Festivals and events can be an excellent marketing opportunity, as well as a chance to come together with our communities and neighboring craft breweries…not to mention, a ton of fun! 

While there’s plenty of benefit to come from attending your local craft beer festival, large groups of people fueled by alcohol can be a recipe for unsafe environments. As we get back to in-person events, many breweries are recognizing the importance of expecting a safety strategy from event organizers. 

“Find a staff member if you need to file a harassment report” simply doesn’t cut it when your staff are too busy to step away from the tent. When breweries collectively raise the bar and ask festivals to provide them with step-by-step, practical strategies to keep their staff safe at events, it proves to be an important aspect of preventing incidents and therefore creating a safer craft beer industry for all.

We sat down with Mandie Murphy, owner of Toronto’s Left Field Brewery to learn what she expects from a festival before her staff set foot on the grounds.

Why is it important to you that festivals provide a safety plan?

When our team serves beer at our brewery, they know we have the tools in place to ensure their safety at all times through our Safe At Home Policy which is clearly posted throughout the brewery. Patrons may be required to leave at any time if they are creating an unsafe space for our team or for other guests. If there is a concern with an account outside of the brewery, our team knows that we will investigate and stop selling to the account and that they will no longer be required to go to that space anymore – something we’ve done in the past.

At an event, these things are not entirely within our control. We can (and frequently do) cut people off at festivals to adhere to Smart Serve social responsibility requirements. Without a safety plan in place from an event organizer, there is a much greater risk of our team being placed in unsafe situations and the same goes for festival guests. It can mean that we don’t know who to speak to in the event of an incident, that we can’t find the designated person quickly enough or that we simply aren’t able to leave the booth because we are also responsible for monitoring alcohol consumption and the security of our co-workers and of the taps.

It can mean that we don’t know ahead of time whether our safety standards are aligned with that of the event organizers, which can result in the organizers being unwilling to enforce the ejection (or more severe repercussions) of patrons or other vendors who create unsafe situations.

The importance of reviewing a festival’s safety plan ahead of time, before we sign a contract, helps ensure that our values and expectations are aligned with those of the event organizer and that we know what to expect and what to do in the event of an incident.

What are your expectations as a brewery when you send staff to a beer festival?

At the most basic level, our expectations are that our teammates and festival patrons will return home in the same state of good physical and mental wellbeing, as they did when they arrived at the event. This is firstly the responsibility of festival organizers. This includes a safety plan and a code of conduct that is clearly posted throughout the festival and that is communicated with all vendors and attendees ahead of time, and that ideally anyone in attendance (vendor or patron), agrees to abide by before they ever walk through the gates. It also includes the resources, policies and procedures be clearly outlined ahead of time – for example, what to do in the event of an incident, what to do in the event of a concern that has not yet become an incident but that should be flagged for further monitoring, a dedicated safe space with trained workers to handle not only medical physical first aid, but also psychological wellness, care and first aid. At a deeper but equally important level, it should include a festival structure that discourages over consumption (example – being willing to buy back beer tokens at the end of the event so folks don’t feel the pressure to quickly use-up all the tokens that are left in their pocket). Festivals should also work to encourage inclusivity and have a zero tolerance policy on harassment of any kind that applies to guests, vendors and festival staff and that may result in immediate ejection in the case of an incident.

Practically speaking, why is ‘find an event organizer’ not a practical solution to report incidents? 

Working a festival as a vendor can be challenging for employees at the best of times. They are dealing with lively crowds while on their feet all day, often in the hot sun. They are responsible for responsible service, beer quality, merchandise sales, token reconciliation, and delivering consistently great brand experiences. There are often a minimum number of employees required to be present at the booth at all times – usually 2 or more. “Find an event organizer” is not practical because leaving the booth for an undetermined amount of time is not always realistic. It is not uncommon to have the minimum number of people at the booth and another teammate on break or away from the booth dealing with beer re-stocking, token counting, or other responsibilities. Festival employees are not always visible with specific uniforms and running around searching the grounds for them is not practical. Anyone who has been a festival organizer in the past knows that much of their day is spent putting out fires and dealing with unforeseen issues – no power to the reefer truck, someone with a broken tent canopy, a security issue at the gate, a no-show vendor, etc. They are not always trained in crisis management or de-escallation, are likely not to have the time, training, tools, authority or resources to do what’s necessary in the event of an incident or a near-miss situation.

This is why we look for festival organizers to provide us with a dedicated contact that can be reached via cell phone, as well as a back-up contact that we can reach-out to in the event of an incident or concern.

Are there training resources that you provide to staff so they feel confident handling confrontations at the beer tent?

Our team is required to take Anti-Harassment and Anti-Bullying training as part of their onboarding. Our team has participated in Safer Spaces Training (hospitality industry specific) and Bystander Intervention training and receives training on our own Safe At Home Policy and what that means for us at Left Field. They are expected to strictly abide by all festival rules (ex. no over-pouring, use correct glassware, no over-serving, no sampling, ID when in question, etc.), even in situations where other vendors may not be strictly abiding by festival rules. Management supports teammates 100% when it comes to refusal of service, incident reporting and making any in-the-moment calls that may sacrifice revenue or financial success at a festival but that are intended to keep our team and/or other patrons safe.