It’s everywhere today, from national chains to regional restaurants to the local bar. Import sales soar higher than the Concorde, regional microbrews flood local markets and new beer brands abound. With such a wealth of choices, how do you manage the modern beer business with an eye toward encouraging today’s discerning drinker to come back for more?
Seasoned managers, from chains to single sites, have shared their insights with Cheers on the best ways to manage and succeed in the brew world.
Tried and True Tactics
If you want to stay in the beer business, clean your lines, draw your drafts right, get your list organized, carry a variety of product categories and serve it in a washed glass, please.
TIP ONE: Clean Your Lines
“A clean line is monstrously important,” says Chris Black, co-owner of Denver’s 69-tap Falling Rock Tap Room. Every two weeks, Black brings in his 14 distributors to clean the lines, a three-hour process. If they don’t do it right, he’ll call the brewery owner at home on a Sunday afternoon. “They learn real quick,” Black laughs. To play it even safer, every two years Black cuts the lines off the wall and installs new ones.
TIP TWO: Draw it Right
“On-premise operators need to understand how draft beer works,” says Terence Connaughton, field director of national accounts on premise for Guinness. And the Guinness draft technicians will gladly demonstrate, free of charge, through their draft maintenance program (see sidebar).
“Bars ruin kegs all the time,” adds Jim Anderson, a Philadelphia-area beer promoter and bar and restaurant veteran of 25 years. “There are no instructions on a keg, and I see foamy beer, flat beer and people pouring three pints to get one. It doesn’t have to be that way.” Most larger breweries run draft beer academies off and on-premise, and Anderson himself runs one for free (for information and a draft beer booklet, e-mail email@example.com).
TIP THREE: Organize
“Everything was hard to find when I came here three years ago,” says Annette May, manager of Chicago’s Map Room. Formerly a nurse in Australia, May set about alphabetizing their 150 bottled beers. “I’m a bit anal,” she confesses. Chris Black must feel the same about his 69 lines. He painstakingly numbered them, top and bottom, to avoid mix ups.
TIP FOUR: Offer Variety
“Category management helps beer sell,” says Guinness’s Connaughton. In other words, retailers must offer a coherent variety of styles. As you might expect, individual operators offer the most variety, but there’s an amazing selection of beer in chain restaurants today.
John Augustine, division president of The Office Beer Bar and Grill, expanded the number of draft lines from 6 to 15 and increased bottle selection to 35. He rotates their bottles and taps frequently, with an emphasis on imports. And it’s paid off. “Since we started our beer program five years ago, we’ve increased our alcohol revenue from 32% to 42%, and half the 42% is from beer,” says Augustine, who operates seven locations in New Jersey. A customer favorite is their “retro list”: cans of Piels, Schlitz, Old Milwaukee and Schaeffer.
Brent Campbell, beverage manager for Claim Jumper, put 20 taps in their new locations and offers 70 different bottled beers. Campbell says, “We split the bottles down the middle between craft beer and imports, including some of the Belgians.” Most drafts are regional microbrews at this western chain with 26 locations.
Even Red Lobster, the mega-chain with 618 U.S. restaurants, has a unique beer rotation program. Ken Thewes, marketing director, is running 12-week promotions in 2000 for Guinness, Corona Lite, Tequiza and Grolsch. “We want to project a more contemporary, fun image, and bar atmosphere is one way to do it,” says Thewes, adding that their newer restaurants have up to eight taps with a larger bottle selection that favors domestic brands.
Individual beer bars thrive on hard-to-find brews. “We have lots of things other bars don’t have,” says May of the Map Room, including cask conditioned ales and rare Belgian brews. Their 26 drafts are a 50/50 mix of microbrews and imports. Robert Gagnon, owner of 24-tap The Gate Bar in Brooklyn, says “We consciously focus on the styles that don’t come out consistently, like winter warmers and barley wines. We also rotate the Belgians and other high-priced imports.” Chris Black at Falling Rock says, “My place is all about encouraging people to be more experimental.”His pricing helps. ” I charge the same for a Bud as a Heineken. The more a beer costs me, the lower my profit margin. They don’t do me any good in the cellar,” he says, adding that he does use a sliding scale margin for some of his 55 varieties of expensive Belgian ales.
TIP FIVE: Consider the Glass
“A clean glass is important,” says Connaughton, “and for a Guinness, it should be an Imperial pint. It’s the emotional connection.” But Brent Campbell of Claim Jumper eschews special glasses. “They usually have a logo and we don’t do logoed products in our stores—it gets too noisy and sends too many messages. We just use plain [clean] schooners.”
Plain old pints are the standard at The Office, too. But at The Gate and the Map Room, beers are matched to their proper glass. “It goes along with quality of product,” says May, quite firmly.
TIP SIX: Promote, Promote, Promote
Almost anything goes when it comes to grabbing and keeping your beer customers. Open your mind with these ideas from chains and individual operators, keeping in mind that the trend today is toward quality, not quantity.
“You should integrate beer into other activities, and vice versa,” says promoter Jim Anderson, who staged DevilFest, a Halloween Happening with beer and apple bobbing; and a Craft Fair/Craft Brew event that combined leisurely sipping with shopping at Christmas time (both at Sugar Moms, a funky Philadelphia beer bar).
Keeping with the action theme, The Office Bar sponsors interactive trivia games and Thursday “Vendor Nights,” when reps from a brewery come and work up the crowd.
Friday the Firkenteenth was born at the Grey Lodge Pub in Northeast Philadelphia when owner Mike Scoatese noted the unusual number of Friday the Thirteenths in 1998. The firken nights have rolled over and become regular money-making events. To increase mid-week sales, Falling Rock does firken fests on Tuesday (Fullers from England), and nets a full house.
Festivals and special events can draw in new crowds. The Real Ale Rendevous at Philadelphia’s Dock Street attracts scores of non-regulars every March for a bevy of different brews. Redbones in Boston sponsors a Pacific Coast Beer fest that packs them in. The Map Room hosts a monthly Beer School where a local expert runs customers through 10 different beers for only $15. The Gate sponsors the Ruppert Cup, a local brewers’ competition that “brings in lots of new people,” says Gagnon, “and so does our spring beer bar-b-que.” In summer, The Office runs a popular Friday and Saturday lobster fest.
Don’t have a kitchen? Don’t panic. Cope creatively, like The Map Room and The Gate did. They both gather take-out menus from neighborhood restaurants that deliver. Customers order from the house phone while enjoying a beer. When the food arrives, they wash it down with a second beverage of their choice.
Even simple printed beer guides can be real selling tools. “Our table-top Miners Guide, with descriptions on beer and wine and bar happenings, disappears all the time,” says Brent Campbell. The beer booklet at Monk’s Café and Belgian Beer Emporium in Philadelphia reads like an English-Belgian dictionary. And the promotional menus at Red Lobster and TGIF are informative works of art.
TIP SEVEN: Training and Morale
Though bartenders are more knowledgeable about beer than ever before, they still need refreshers and reasons to stay excited.
The Office Bar educates and inspires by taking their managers on brewery tours. “It creates excitement which carries over to the server,” says John Augustine. He even took their managers to Germany’s October fest last year so they could stage an authentic reproduction in their seven stores. One Wednesday a month, Chris Black at Falling Rock drives his bartenders to local breweries in Colorado. “It keeps them enthused and gives them lots of energy,” he says.
So don’t drown in the sea of beer. Suit up and learn a few strokes that will keep you afloat for a long time to come.
In eight years, Coors’ on-premise Halloween Pumpkin Promotion has raised $7 to $8 million for St. Jude’s Hospitals, says Ed Van Den Ameele, Northeast communications manager for Coors. “Last year’s Queen of Halloween was Salma Hayek.”
Her appearances raised money, as did the pumpkin-shaped posters customers bought on premise for $1, signed and had their bartenders proudly display. In addition, Coors sponsors the Ultimate Sports Fantasy promotion, a radio-driven sweepstakes where the consumer registers on-premise to win tickets to a variety of sporting events (available in the Northeast only). And don’t forget the Irish gent, George Killian, spokesperson for Killian’s Irish Red. Now in his 70’s, he and wife Phoebe trod the bars of Boston and Philadelphia, spreading the word about the beer made from the Killian Brewery recipe.
“Miller wants to be known as the beer consultant for retailers,” says Jeff Waalkes, sales communications manager for Miller. That’s the reason behind Miller’s program that advises on-premise operators who’s buying what and why, and what you can do about it.
Waalkes gives this example: “We can tell a retailer in Allentown, Pennsylvania, what is the most popular import in his or her area, versus Phoenix or Seattle, for instance. We can provide the straight information on all brands and packaging, not just Miller’s.”
By merging information from several data bases, Waalkes says Miller’s program can help discover the most profitable mix of brands, draft and package beer for operations and customer bases, as well as what to charge, how to manage inventory, the best ways to promote and tips on training. The program was introduced last May.
Stout for the Masses
If you haven’t already noticed, Guinness has gone mainstream.
James Thompson, Guiness vice president of marketing, says, “Our distribution is thriving, not just in Irish neighborhood bars, but the mainstream regular bars.” As a case in point, Red Lobster is testing draft Guinness this year. Ken Thewes, Marketing Director for Red Lobster, says, “We were worried that a stout beer would be limited in appeal, but it’s exceeding our expectations.” With mainstream sales come increased responsibilities toward quality, such as proper draft lines, creative promotions and constant innovation.
“Our emphasis and commitment to quality is what makes it work on-premise,” says Thompson. Proof of that is Guinness’s draft maintenance program. Terence Connaughton, field director of national accounts, on- premise explains: “We send in draft technicians to help retailers understand how draft beer works, like having the right gas mix, the need for a clean glass and the importance of presentation [the famous two-part, 20-ounce pour]. At no charge, the technicians come in and check the effectiveness of the entire draft system, not just Guinness.”
Connaughton says this has improved the quality of Guinness tremendously over the years. “In 1999, Guinness spent more dollars per case equivalent than any other supplier in the industry,” he said. Since about half their business is on-premise, he says, it’s a good investment.
Promote and Innovate
Guinness promotions are legendary. Their Great Guinness Toast set a world record for participation. St. Patrick’s Day promotions urge bars to give the biggest party ever: “Raise A Pint and Raise the Roof.” Unique oyster festivals with local seafood restaurants pair Guinness and food. Connaughton says their eye is toward more food and beer pairings and increasingly interactive promotions, along the lines of the Bass Ale comedy nights.
Meanwhile, the draft can Guinness, popular in restaurants that dislike keg systems, has taken hold, and a new wrinkle, bottled draft, is on the way. Thompson says Genie is excellent for restaurants that prefer bottles to cans, and should “guarantee freshness at small accounts who sell less beer. It’s also good at clubs where you don’t want a big pint slopping about.” Genie works the same as draft cans, but the widget expands so it can’t fall through the neck and into your mouth, says Connaughton. And extra-cold Guinness is being tested at a handful of New York City accounts, says Thompson. “We are bringing the temperature down four or five degrees. We want to dispel the myth that Guinness is warm and heavy.”