What’s the secret to success in selling craft beer? “Operators who take their beer menus, staff training and presentation very seriously are the ones who sell the most craft beer,” says Julia Herz, director of craft beer marketing for the Brewers Association, the Boulder, Colo., based trade association representing America’s craft brewers.
Yet this success does not rely on price promotions or pouring massive portions. Smaller half-glasses, tiny tulips and snifters, tasting and sampling glasses, in sizes from 4 oz. to 8 oz., are becoming key to selling craft beer profitably. Tasting sizes and beer samplings are really only possible with a solid draft program: According to the Brewers Association, 30% of craft beer is sold via draft.
Variety by the glass
Kip Snider, director of beverage at the Irvine, Calif.-based chain Yard House, oversees more than 800 brands of beer sold at 40 units. “Beer flights are incredibly popular at the Yard House,” Snider says. “We offer the six-pack flight, a collection of six 5-oz. glasses of beer, featured according to season or beer style.” Six-pack flights are priced according to the scarcity of the beer served, ranging from $8.95 and up.
The Yard Hous e also features “shorty” glasses, which are 9-1/4 oz., along with classic pints, goblets and half-yard glasses. “The shortys are great for variety, because a customer can enjoy three different beers of their own choosing,” Snider says. Priced from $2.75 to $7 per shorty, these pours allow guests to sample different styles without committing to a full pint or half yard.
How does the Yard House manage so many beers? The operator works with nearly 200 distributors on the supply side to coordinate all of the beer brands sold. “There’s lots of availability all across the country,” says Snider, “and craft breweries are pushing the envelope on beer styles and brewing creativity.”
World of Beer, the Florida-based chain of 32 units, builds its success on craft beer on draft, as well as selling by the bottle. Each unit offers 500 brands by the bottle and another 40 on draft. “We use samples to sell craft beer,” says Tegan Foster, manager of World of Beer franchising. “Paddles (carved wooden serving trays that hold four 4-oz. glasses), promotions for tasters, seasonal flights and also choice brands on draft are successful for us.”
Each World of Beer paddle includes four tastings as a flight, but sold individually as the beer shot, it’s a 4-oz. pour. Paddles are priced starting at $6 to $8, and individual tasters from $3 to $5. Small sips of draft beer (about a half-ounce) are complimentary and help cinch the sale. “We want everyone to be happy with the glass of beer in front of them,” says Foster.
Formats for the World of Beer taverns vary according to location. Some franchises are located in existing structures retrofitted for the “WOB” experience: exposed brick, deep wood-toned finishes, lots of booths, highly visible taps and reach-in refrigerators holding bottled beer on display behind glass doors. “Some taverns have 20 seats, and others have as many as 60 seats,” says Foster. “The Tempe Arizona WOB is in an old bank, with the original vault door left intact; it’s a funky, unique space.”
Glassware programs at the Quaker Steak & Lube, a chain of 10 company-owned units and 35 franchised units, remain focused on draft. “We offer a standard 16-oz. pint, a 22-oz. mug, a 32-oz. tankard, and a portable tabletop tap called the Lube Tube, which holds 100-oz. and serves 6 to 8 guests,” says Kate Malaniak, senior food and beverage director for the Sharon, Penn.-based chain. “Sponsored glassware is tricky for us to roll out across all the units,” she notes, “but individual franchises have had success with smaller branded glasses, such as the Stella [Artois] chalice,” which holds 14 oz.
“The trend for independent operators is to find a unique glass for each beer, but space can be an issue in terms of presentation,” says Jason Oziel, director of on-premise national accounts for New Belgium Brewing Co. in Ft. Collins, Colo. “We are introducing a display, made of bamboo and metal, for our signature globe glasses to make it easier to showcase and use the stemware.” The display may be placed on a counter, bar top, or wall-mounted.
Menu merchandising more important
Several chains are moving toward electronic displays and signage to display their beer menus, Oziel says. “Buffalo Wild Wings has been advertising New Belgium beers on their draft tower hangers, and with point-of-purchase promotions for draft beers on football game days.” Chains such as Old Chicago and the Yard House are moving to electronic signs, “a change that is really taking off across the industry,” he says.
According to Oziel, draft selections for Buffalo Wild Wings’ football promotion will vary by region. These will include New Belgium Brewing’s Fat Tire, Yuengling Lager, Widmer Hefeweizen, Redhook’s Long Hammer IPA, Kona Brewing Co.’s Longboard Lager, Bell’s Two Hearted Ale, and Shiner Bock, so units have regional variety.
The Yard House has rolled out their new chalkboard series in 26 of the chain’s 40 units, with plans to finish the expansion by year-end, Snider says. “We do our beer reviews twice a year, but it has been a challenge to merchandise limited release beers that are short on availability,” he notes. “With the chalkboard program, it’s easy to add and update the selection.”
The Yard House will be adding more pumpkin beers in time for Thanksgiving and winter/holiday ales in December. “The new draft offerings tie into our social media marketing,” adds Snider. This provides a great opportunity to start the conversation about consumer beer choices online.
Spiral-bound beer menus for World of Beer taverns list offerings by style, with data on the beer’s alcohol by volume, country of origin, and price to help consumers. Each franchise focuses on local craft breweries, and before opening, each manager visits and tours nearby breweries to introduce the WOB concept and suggest on-premise promotions.
“We don’t rely on the menu alone to make the beer sale,” says Foster. “We teach our servers to use the menus as an introduction.”
Every World of Beer staff member attends the two-week Beer School, “so servers can identify a beer by its style, origin, the proper glass for presentation, and anecdotes and a fun story to tell about the brewery and each beer we carry,” says Foster. “We don’t want to take a cookie-cutter approach.”
The Yard House builds its reputation for service on staff training conducted upon hiring and continuing as it introduces new beers. “We offer beer classes every two months as we bring in new brands,” says Snider.
For instance, “We set up a training room for staff tastings, set up school room style, with a progressive sampling of beers,” Snider says. “The instructor reviews the flavor profiles, styles, ABV and descriptors so everyone can take the information and use it to the best effect. Everyone on our beverage team takes the Cicerone server program, and we need that blend of knowledge and service.”
Some training programs are specific to a single brewery. For example, New Belgium Brewing Co. offers the “Beer Confidence” training program for beer distributors and sales reps to better understand their beers, and is now rolling out the same program for on-premise sales and servers. “We want people presenting our beer to understand the brewing process and unique flavors,” says Oziel, “and maintaining draft quality is a big part of that training.”
Quality is the underpinning for all draft beer sales. “Draft is definitely craft friendly,” says Andy Rattner, area sales manager for Boulder Beer Co. “Where we as a segment once struggled to convince accounts to try our new beer styles, we now enjoy substantially more receptiveness.”
Along with that willingness to try new beers on draft comes more variety in specialty and experimental brews. “The lack of consumer brand loyalty within the craft beer segment actually helps develop a culture of camaraderie,” adds Rattner. This may help spur more collaborative brewing and special beer releases for festivals and seasonal events.