To Market, To Market
As the brewpub segment has matured, so have the marketing techniques that drive it.
By Peg Wallace
When brewpubs first started popping up around the country, the novelty alone was enough to draw crowds. Soon, however, the proliferation of the concept saturated the market, and survival became more challenging. Today, the concept is alive, well and still growing, but those that thrive do so not only because they’re providing a wide range of interesting brews, but also because the operators are knowledgeable marketers.
Greg and Lara Trupelli of SF’s Beach Chalet match quality brews and food with solid,marketing and promotional efforts.
Take, for instance, Lara and Greg Trupelli, owners of San Francisco’s Beach Chalet, who recognized early on how important it is to create a market presence beyond the brewpub concept. “We offer our guests exceptional hand-crafted beer, but equally important is the culinary experience that accompanies it. In addition, solid and creative marketing and promotional efforts are key components for achieving differentiation and market presence.”
Gary Foreman, vice president of concept and development at the 30-unit Rock Bottom Breweries, concurs. “Naturally, execution is the first and foremost key to success,” he says. “There is always a market for basic pub food and great beer. But if you want to be successful, you need to take that a step further.”
And cuisine is the place to start, Foreman says. “In terms of menu, we try to have traditional pub food with a twist,” he says, “and we try to be on trends or close behind on a few signature items, but still offer enough food items that people will recognize. The key is to do it with enough flair and distinction so that it is something that customers couldn’t throw together at home.”
A successful beer-oriented operation manages to enhance the beverage experience with the culinary, and vice versa. “Our menu is designed to complement the beer we serve,” says Lara Trupelli. “Our brewer and chef worked together to create the menu, and they each have a high level of respect for the other’s craft. They worked to create a menu that features full-flavored dishes that focus on bold and hearty flavors.
“The menu, with influences that include Southwestern, Asian and Mediterranean styles of cooking and ingredients, is designed to go well with our beers and our beers complement our cuisine. This is the primary foundation for promoting both our beer and cuisine.”
Rock Bottom Brewery allows great leeway at each unit for brewmaster AND chef, says vp Foreman. “We have an on-premise brewer who delivers distinctive seasonal products. At each location we have creative beers that the brewers come up with themselves, not recipes that originate in a corporate office. Since we give that kind of creative license to the brewer, we offer the same opportunity to the chef. So we have special food programs in each location. The chef always utilizes the local market, thereby providing for the distinctive tastes indigenous to that region. So, although we are a chain, we have each location be unique, and particular to that market.”
Other growing chains are uniting food with beer as well. “We pride ourselves on having something for everyone,” says Susan Sears, general manager at the Alcatraz Brewing Company’s debut California location at the Block in Orange County. (The Michigan-based operation includes such SF-style design elements as a replica of the Golden Gate bridge, a mural of the San Francisco Bay, and a fully operational grain silo made to resemble the Alcatraz water tower.)
Beach Chalet brewer Scott Turnnidge hits the road with the Trupellis to promote their brews and food.
“We consider ourselves a real culinary kitchen,” she says. “We’re not traditional, heavy pub fare. We may be a theme restaurant, but our menu is not thematic. All of our food has culinary direction. We make everything from scratch; even our meats are smoked on-premise. We also provide a service standard of a five-star restaurant. But we provide an environment where everyone is welcome; you can have a celebration dinner here, bring the kids, grab a beer and a quick bite to eat. We think it is really important to give people options and not make them feel limited in any way when they come here. That encourages repeat business.”
Brewery tours and tastings, samplers of the house beers, brewers dinners, all are natural extensions of the brewpub. But, by sticking with those organic ideas, are you missing out on exposing your brewpub to new customers? Absolutely, says Rebecca Steed, special events manager at The BridgePort BrewPub in Portland, OR’s oldest microbrewery. Opened in Portland’s historic Pearl District in 1984 at the beginning of the brewpub phenomenon, BridgePort has seen a lot of change since opening, says Steed.
“The brewpub market has gotten a lot more competitive, especially in Portland, which is a real hub for brewpubs; we have over 30 in this city alone,” she says. “If you want to be successful, in addition to honing and nurturing relationships with your regular guests, you really need to be creative with your promotions.”
And what they do is tap into an area that one would not normally associate with a brewpub; winery perhaps, but not a brewpub. This year, they will present their fourth season of the “Chamber Music on Tap” series. Held in their upstairs pub, the series includes informal musical events featuring members of the Oregon Symphony Orchestra. In this intimate, in-the-round setting, musicians perform music and offer interactive discussions about composers, their instruments, music history, etc. “Chamber Music on Tap offers a good example of how supporting arts organizations can attract a whole new audiences for your establishment,” says Steed. “While at the same time reinforcing to existing customers that you offer so much more than hand-crafted beer.”
Additionally, the brewpub sponsors the Portland Arts & Lectures Series, which present speakers from all parts of the world including writers of prominence as well as emerging writing talents. Playwrights, poets, novelists, scientists, directors, travel writers, biographers, screenwriters, columnists, journalists and critics have taken part in this non-profit literary program.
And of course, traditional promotions that focus on educating customers is still a reliable business builder. “Educating your guests is one of the very best ways to promote your products,” says Lara Trupelli. “The more a guest knows about craft-brewed beer, the more likely they are to return and order your beer. In addition to brewery tours and complimentary beer sampling with our brewer, we also have a ‘Brewery Tour and Appetizer Party,’ which is a private tour of the brewery for 20 people followed by appetizers and an informational tasting session with our brewer. The guests have a great time and in the end, their experience of craft-brewed ales will never be the same. Just like with wine tasting, the possibilities are endless and the more you know, the more you buy.”
Sears of Alcatraz agrees. “Education for beer has increased with the onset of brewpubs,” she observes. “People come in not only for the beer, but also the knowledge of the servers. People who try different breweries can recognize good quality and well-crafted ales.” And while craft brewed beer may no longer be a novelty, the Beach Chalet’s Trupelli says it does place a brewpub in the enviable position of belonging to both the restaurant and brewing industry, allowing for double the opportunities for exposure.
“We’re planning a Brewer’s Dinner for San Francisco concierges,” says Trupelli. “This will provide important potential customer contact with an enhanced understanding of what an experience at The Beach Chalet Brewery & Restaurant is like. Our brewer, Scott Turnnidge and I spent a few weeks last fall visiting hotels and delivery growlers to the head concierges as a little holiday gift.” They expanded into an ad hoc media blitz by visiting local radio stations during morning drive, the busiest listening time of the day, bearing growlers of their brews, house-made root beer, signature dishes and promotional materials.
“The DJs were thrilled to get some interesting food. They start work very early in the morning, so 8 a.m. is about lunchtime for them. They mentioned the food they were enjoying and any special events on the air several times. It provided great exposure that was nearly free and conveyed a more legitimate feeling than paid advertising.”
And spreading the word and educating the public is beneficial for the whole market. “The brewpub industry is a very friendly one,” she says. “Brewpubs across the board recognize the importance of educating the public. We know it helps all of us.”
“The uniqueness of brewpub status is not foremost to everyone,” observes Gary Foreman. “There are many factors for success. Trends in the marketplace and the fact that each market is different. The brewpub scene has been around seven or eight years now. Many brewpubs are open and thriving. The ones that recognize the fact that they aren’t going to win by just being a brewpub are the ones who stay. While we feel it is still the most unique point of distinction that we brew our own beer, we are committed to remaining multi-faceted.”
BEER DOES GOOD
Community and charitable promotions are not just good, they’re good public relations tools. But Beach Chalet operators Lara and Greg Trupelli see it as more than a promotion. Inspired by Lara Trupelli’s father, who at the age of 50 decided to devote half his time and money to helping others, the Trupellis involve the Beach Chalet by donating beer to local festivals and various events, excellent opportunities to raise awareness about your establishment and create customer loyalty. By far, their most unique and effective promotion is the Beach Chalet Community Fund Program, which benefits local organizations including such environmental groups as BayKeeper and the Surfrider Foundation, and neighborhood groups such as the Haight-Ashbury free clinic.
“We donate a nickel for every beer sold to a different non-profit organization each month. We raise close to $25,000 a year through this program, and we are proud of the support and funding that our Community Fund provides to a lot of great organizations.” says Lara. “We have an application process and a staff selection committee, which reviews dozens of proposals and selects each group every month.”
“The staff really buys into the program and feels good about our Community Fund and the opportunity to make a difference,” she continues. “It’s a great way for the staff to recommend a beer, as they can honestly say, “Drink up, it’s good for the neighborhood!'”
When hosting a promotion, the Chalet prints 30,000 double-sided, full-color post cards, which are sent to their mailing list of 6,000, the featured non-profit’s mailing list and a few dozen supporting businesses which display the cards on their counters. The rest are given to the Beach Chalet’s guests when their checks arrive. The house event calendar features the non-profit group, their mission statement, their logo and an image that is representative of their work.
“We have a special event for the Group of the Month which always includes brewery tours and beer tasting,” Lara explains. “The back of the event calendar includes our monthly line up of bands, special events, holidays and other specials we are promoting. The Community Fund Program exposes us to a brand new audience, usually consisting of around 500 people, each month through the non-profit’s mailing list. This is not only a new group of potential customers, it is an audience that is much more likely to check us out since we are supporting a non-profit organization they believe in.”
Beer Marketing Checklist
Any brewpub or beer-focused operation, no matter the size, can benefit from integrating common sense marketing methods. Here are the top 10.
1 Good Beer
Whether you brew your own or feature the best, making sure the beer you serve is at peak quality is an absolute necessity. Frequently check and maintain taps, lines and coolers.
2 Good Food
The shaky state of such eatertainment giants as Planet Hollywood has taught everyone a lesson; “It’s the food, stupid!”
3 Good Combinations
To integrate your kitchen and brewery, match your dishes with your beers and feature the pairings on your menus.
4 Brewery Tours
Let your customers get to know your business better, and they’re more likely to feel like part of the family.
You can’t sell new, unusual or obscure beers without letting people try them. Whether that means selling 2-ounce tastes or sampling anything to anyone for free, it makes good business sense.
6 Brewer Appearances
Bring in brewers and suppliers to talk about beer in general and their brews specifically. Go a little further and host a brewer dinner matching their brews and your food.
7 Unusual Promos
Host regional brew competitions, connect your operation with popular local celebrations, visit media outlets.
8 Community Involvement
Participate in local charities, celebrations and festivals.
9 Relationship Building
Whatever you do, solidify your reputation with your most important group; your frequent customers.
10 Public Education
Don’t let the frat house abuser define the beer drinker;
let the public know that your business is about tradition, quality, taste and adult enjoyment.