Six ways bars can better respect beer…

Posted on Posted in BeerAdvocate Mag

Respecting beer doesn’t mean your restaurant or bar has to jettison its popular wine-by-the-glass program.  We’re not alcohol segregationists here at BeerAdvocate Magazine.  But you should stop and spend a little time thinking about the role beer plays in your establishment.  Do you spend more time contemplating dishwasher clogs?  That’s not entirely surprising.  Bar owners are busy people and many simply pick the six or eight most popular draft brands and call it a day.  In the spirit of promoting beer and your sales, here is a six-pack of ideas on how you can improve your beer program.

Number 1: Provide Beer Menus

It’s the first question beer lovers have upon entering any bar or restaurant: what’s on tap?  For all of the regularity, it’s surprising how difficult the question is to answer.  Customers shouldn’t have to make a breeze-by of the tap handles just to hunt down their selections.  So create a beer menu, it doesn’t have to be fancy.  Good beer guides include an updated list of available beers, a concise description of each beer or style, and the price.  The best beer guides describe the brewing process and how to taste and enjoy beer.  At Sheffield’s in Chicago, the handy beer guide offers straightforward descriptions and also provides a glossary of technical terms associated with brewing and enjoying beer.  At Monk’s Cafe in Philadelphia, the faded beer guides avoid beer descriptions, opting instead for style notes and notices for upcoming events.

Number 2: Use Proper Glassware

Bar owners have slowly come to realize that beer’s inherent beauty is something they can both appreciate and sell.  Where simple Shaker pint glasses once ruled the bar, a bevy of oddly shaped glassware now matches the great range of beers available.  The value of putting on a show when presenting beer cannot be understated.  Big, shapely hefe-weizen glasses and rolling strong ale snifters make instant impressions on nearby customers.  Beer is a multi-sensory experience and the process of promoting beer doesn’t end when the customer orders.

Number 3: Train Your Staff

Smart breweries, wholesalers, and restaurateurs know that servers are the frontline soldiers in the war for better beer sales.  Owners expect the waitstaff to know the food menu, so why shouldn’t they be able to describe the available beers?  No need for a long soliloquy on the gentle interplay of malts and hops, just some straight facts.  First, know what is available.  I’m amazed at how often when I ask what’s available, the response comes back, “We have everything.?  Excellent, I’ll take the Thomas Hardy 1975 vintage.  Second, servers should never simply ask, “Light or dark??  Servers should know the list, where the beers hail from, and be able to offer some quick descriptive thoughts.

Number 4: Offer Samples

This could just as easily fit under server training as it’s another way to interact with customers.  The best servers can sense when a customer wants to trade-up to a better beer.  Consumers who practice beer monogamy are not adventurous by nature so we need to strike when the chance presents itself.  Offering a sample to customers who pause over a beer list is good business.  Samples also give servers the chance to test out their beer knowledge and shine.

Number 5: Add A Local Draft Line

It’s as simple as it sounds.  If you’re like most bars, you offer a few macro standards on tap and round out the selection with Guinness, Bass, Harp, and maybe even Stella Artois.  Why send all your love to cash-flush European conglomerates when you can support your local brewery?  You know who I’m talking about.  Your local brewer is the guy who comes in every other week begging for a line.  Why not give him a shot?  Which brings us to…

Number 6: Hold Beer Events

Beer events were once the limited province of beer bars.  Now, every establishment can get a piece of the action.  Breweries and wholesalers know the value of direct sales and they now devote greater resources to promoting beer events in bars and restaurants, ranging from simple on-premise tastings to six-course beer dinners.  You don’t have to handle the details all yourself.  Contact your local brewery or wholesaler to gauge their interest.  Check out The Map Room’s Beer School or the Brickskeller’s popular education series for more ideas.

With a little time and effort, you can hopefully advocate for beer and raise your sales at the same time.  Beer lovers will be sure to tip accordingly.

–Article appeared in the April 2007 issue of BeerAdvocate Magazine.

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