The craft beer movement in the U.S. is invigorating the beer category, and on-premise operators have great opportunities for increased sales. Industry veterans across the country share some tips for for capitalizing on the craft movement and selling more beer.
1) Improve Your Draft Quality.
This is key: “Even though the laws on draft line maintenance differ from state to state, the best operators know that their tap lines are the core of the craft beer business,” says Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the Boulder, CO-based Brewers Association. “Draft quality can make you or break you, so you have to start with maintaining your taps.”
If you need some help with draft line maintenance, the Brewers Association offers free resources at www.draughtquality.org.
Keep in mind that more is not always better when it comes to draft lines. “Plan for draft offerings according to the number of seats you have available,” says Chris Black, founder of the Falling Rock Tap House in Denver, CO. With seating for 220 patrons indoors, and another 45 on a seasonal patio, Black maintains a rotating selection of 94 draft choices.
“If you have more taps than you have seats in your bar, that can be a problem,” says Black. He suggests dividing the number of seats by three or four (indexed according to your market’s saturation with beer bars) to establish a workable ratio of beer selection to capacity.
2) Build Relationships With Brewery Representatives.
More craft breweries are ramping up sales staff to augment what distributors can offer. “Brewery representatives are fantastic resources for hand-selling during events, linking the brewery and the customer at the bar or restaurant,” says Herz. “The on-premise support can be really helpful.”
Building the relationship with the brewery can make a huge difference for long-term success. “Operators have to understand what makes the craft brewing industry work,” says Black, “and the best way of gaining knowledge is to get out there and network in your market and support the core brands of the brewery.”
The hospitality industry runs on relationships, Black notes, “so those operators who visit the breweries, host brewery nights and tap takeovers, and make an effort to connect often are first in line to get the rare beers and highly allocated new releases.That doesn’t happen overnight.”
The connections are important, Black adds, “but so is the support of the brewery’s core brands on a regular basis, because if it weren’t for those core brands, they wouldn’t have the ability to brew the specialty limited releases.”
3) Employ Smart,Sociable Servers.
Cambridge, MA, is one of the busiest bar towns in the U.S., due to the concentration of colleges and universities. Yet the Cambridge Common stands out as a craft beer destination thanks to its sociable vibe and servers’ flexibility to accommodate large groups.
“Weekends are always busy,” says cofounder Holly Heslop of the 175-seat restaurant and bar, “but I’m always amazed at the number of large parties and groups that walk in every night of the week, without reservations.” Cambridge Common does its best to accommodate large groups “so we get the repeat business,” she notes.
Smart servers also understand how to talk about craft beer and make knowledgeable suggestions. Thanks to training programs such as the Beer Steward (Master Brewers Association of the Americas), Cicerone certification, and the Doemens Bier Sommelier program (Siebel Institute), there are many options for career training for front-of-house staff who want to progress within the craft beer industry.
4) Practice Proper Presentation.
Innovations in draft service from personal taps to tasting flights make creative presentations for craft beer. Draft service also offers flexibility in portions, so that it’s possible to achieve value pricing without being locked into a 16-oz. pour.
For instance, The Yard House offers a range of sizes, including a half-pint called a shorty glass, says Kip Snider, director of beverage for the Irvine, CA- based chain. “At every one of our 44 locations, we can offer guests a shorty, a true pint, a goblet, or the half-yard glass, so people can order a beer just the way they want to enjoy it,” he notes.
A beer-ready glass is essential to draft presentation, and don’t underestimate the power of the pour, Snider says: “The proper amount of head on each glass served allows your beer program to go to the next level.”
5) Tap Into the Power of Social Media.
Keep the conversation going long after customers have left the bar by including your operation’s social media links on menus, coasters, business cards, check receipts and websites.
“If you manage the social media conversation about the brands and breweries at your bar, you can build your business so much faster,” says Ashley Routson, PR director for Bison Brewery of Berkeley, CA, and a strategic consultant in social media known as The Beer Wench.
Cambridge Common uses social media to announce keg tappings, new releases, brewery visits and beer dinners, Heslop says, “and it’s all free, or very low cost advertising, for us.”
6) Keep Your Seasonal SKU Lineup Fresh.
Some predict that “SKU-maggedon” will collapse the craft beer market with an unsustainable number of new brews. Yet smart management of seasonal releases will let you enjoy brewery creativity without tapping your customers’ limits for beer by the calendar.
“I get seasonal releases in sixtel kegs that I know I can sell through quickly,” says Black of the Falling Rock. “If it’s looking like spring outdoors and there’s still a few pints left in the keg of winter warmer, I will take it off.”
This means that Falling Rock may have to eat the cost of a few glasses of beer, Black notes. “But the $8 to $12 loss is something I can write off easily—rather than having the customer write me off as an operator who sells out-of-date old beer.”
7) Expand Beyond the IPAs.
It’s been more than 20 years since iconic IPAs such as Sierra Nevada Pale Ale infiltrated tap selections at bars across the U.S. Yet even though America’s thirst for IPAs continues unabated, you should be open to a wide selection of beer styles.
From barrel-aged brown ales to unfiltered saisons, there are many styles of beer available to make your operation’s draft selection distinctive. Be sure to carve out your niche for your core customers.
Tom Peters, the award-winning owner of Monk’s Café in Philadelphia and one of the founders of Philly Beer Week, notes that Monk’s is known as a destination for Belgian ales, “but I also try to keep the selection fresh. For the 2013 Philly Beer Week, we are pouring seven beers that I helped brew at American breweries such as Allagash Brewing in Maine.”
A unique offering is the Dock Street Trappiste Pale, brewed with George Hummel, an award winning homebrewer and Scott Morrison, now head brewer of the new Barren Hill Tavern & Brewery in Philadelphia. “Inspired by Orval, but certainly not a clone, this ale will be very dry because the secondary fermentation was with brettanomyces,” Peters says. “It will be unique—the only place in the world to taste all of these beers.”
Creating such unique offerings and experiences for your guests and staff helps build community and good will, he says. It also helps to offer a variety of price points.
Ginger Castrios, bar manager of Cambridge Common, makes sure that a core selection of New England breweries anchors the draft selection, with affordable pricing of $3.95 to $5.95 per pint. “We want to cater to our neighborhood, and having an affordable price for a basic draft such as Harpoon IPA or Long Trail White makes our place a destination,” says Castrios.
While you’re at it, even if you identify your operation as a craft beer bar, be sure to offer some cocktails too. Adrienne Pierluissi of Milwaukee’s Sugar Maple oversees more than 60 taps of American craft beer, but also features a full bar for the 120-seat tavern.
“We want to have groups come in and enjoy their entire evening, and you can’t count on every person in the group to be a beer geek,” says Pierluissi. “A menu that includes a few cocktails and other drinks is truly hospitable, so everyone can enjoy being out together.”
Lucy Saunders is a freelance food and beer writer based in Milwaukee, WI.
Selling Craft Beer with Tastings and Events
Even if your bar doesn’t have a kitchen, it’s possible to sell more craft beer via pairings and tastings. Chocolates, cheeses, pickles and specialty foods in jars can all be sampled and paired with beer. “It’s a great way to tie into a brewery visit, to pair the brewer with a local cheesemaker or chocolatier,” says Tom Peters, owner of Monk’s Café in Philadelphia.
Daniel Lanigan, proprietor of Lord Hobo and partner in Alewife in Queens, NY, hosts events such as a new releases beer dinner for bloggers and food writers, featuring tastings and special pairings.
Julia Herz, craft beer program director of the Brewers Association, conducts numerous tastings and events on-premise, both for American Craft Beer Week and other festivals. The Beer Week phenomenon now has events in all 50 states, she says. “It’s truly a national program with special tasting menus, limited releases and custom-brewed collaboration beers, brewery visits and lots of creativity.”
Kip Snider, director of beverage of The Yard House, emphasizes the educational and networking opportunities available at the Great American Beer Festival. “The GABF is one of the best events in the world to see what’s available, taste the beers side by side, meet with distributors and network with breweries from across the country,” says Snider. “I find it to be the key event for learning about new beer brands and breweries.”
The Brewers Association now offers a retailer membership for those working in bars and restaurants identified as “craft-centric.” With growing numbers of chains and independent taverns taking craft beer as the central theme for their beverage program, expect this category to grow.—LS