I think we can all agree that craft beer tends to be a pretty progressive in most of the things they do. The industry itself is all about pushing the boundaries of brewing, so it comes naturally for them to have really great taprooms at their breweries. No one is perfect though, and there is usually room for improvement in just about every brewery taproom I’ve had the pleasure of stepping foot in. I’ve taken the time to list off a few things I think should start becoming commonplace in the industry. I’m not saying all breweries need to implement these right away, but maybe they are something they’ll keep on their radar.
Drinks For Non-Beer Drinkers
I love my wife. She’s my goofy other half, and we share a lot of common interests. Unfortunately for me (or her), she isn’t really into craft beer. She’s always willing to take a sip, but usually it doesn’t extend beyond that. I’ve slowly been trying to sway her opinion, but I’m not nearly as persuasive as I’d like. She loves to spend time with me whenever she gets the chance, which means she accompanies me on many of my brewery trips. Lately, we’ve had a bit of a mixed bag of experiences with our brewery trips.
Two weeks ago my wife and I were in Chicago and visited a number of breweries. The first couple had some options for her, mainly cider and mixed drinks. Two of the breweries we visited, which shall remain nameless, when asked if they had anything besides beer responded rather rudely. Both places informed my wife that she was in a brewery and they only had beer. First off, let’s drop the assumption that my wife asked her question in a manner that should have elicited a rude response. She’s one of the sweetest individuals I know, and talks like a damn Disney princess. Secondly, do they think she stumbled into their brewery and expected them to serve her appletini’s? Well, she wouldn’t have said no if they could, but I digress. There wasn’t even a sorry attached to their comments, there was just a weird finality that suggested she go somewhere else.
Everyone understands breweries are mainly going to concern themselves with beer. It is why they are in business, and it is what they know. However, if you are a public facing operation, you should probably considering offering something for the non-beer drinker. A lot of places carry craft sodas, ciders, and limited liquor selections for those who come with their beer drinking friends/family/significant others. If you aren’t prepared to offer something that isn’t beer, steer these customers to beers that might be worth trying. They like wine? Maybe you have a wine-barrel aged farmhouse ale they can try. Big coffee fans? Give them a pour of your coffee stout and tell them what flavors they should be looking for beyond the coffee. Just because they aren’t beer drinkers doesn’t mean they can’t be valuable customers or brand evangelists. Being helpful goes a lot further than being snotty and rude.
Think of it this way, most restaurants that specialize in one thing like pizza, barbeque, etc. all offer selections for people who may not be into those styles. Why wouldn’t a place that specializes in beer offer something to the person who doesn’t drink?
Technology is Your Friend
This really goes for every public facing business out there, and doubly so for places that want people to stick around for a while. People are a bit over reliant on technology these days. I’m guilty of having my eyes glued to my phone when out quite often. I love checking places like BeerAdvocate, Untappd, and Ratebeer while I’m out at a taproom or brewpub. I’m a huge geek who loves to keep track of my beers, how they tasted, and see how I thought something stacked up to other beer fanatics. Breweries and their taprooms are often located in warehouses that a lot of time don’t get the best reception. I’ve been at breweries where I want to look up a style of beer or reference another beer I had recently only to be stymied by a little 1x symbol at the top of my phone.
You want to make people happy? Offer free wi-fi. Keep it password protected so people can’t just leech it if they happen to be nearby, but allow your customers to spread the word about your brewery while they are there. I think we could always use a little less technology in our lives sometimes, but unfortunately easy access to the internet is something many people are starting to expect.
On a smaller note, make sure you have outlets available for chargers, laptop power supplies, and any other doohickey your nerdy customers might bring in. It might sound silly, but having a tech friendly establishment might win you some kudos from many people.
Food, No Matter How Limited
This one is a bit tougher just because offering food at any establishment opens up a number of new issues. It’s one of the many reasons many craft breweries don’t offer food. It can be a costly endeavor. The cost behind it is why you see a lot of breweries pairing with local restaurants. It allows the restaurant to expand their reach, and keeps the costs lower for the brewer. Still, offering food can be a pain. It could likely mean more stress on an already busy staff. People need food, especially when they are consuming a lot of alcohol. There is a good chance that if you don’t offer food, you’ll have trouble keeping some of your clientele there for very long. Although, in some cases some might argue this as a perk.
Even the ability to bring in food could help a lot. It might require a bit more cleaning by your staff after messy patrons leave, but it could keep them buying your beer longer. The final option is simply offering simple bar snacks. Keeping the bar stocked with pretzels and the like might be enough to keep some people in their seats.
I’m a completionist. I want to try everything. If you have 20 taps, I’m going to want to try all 20 taps. There are a lot of breweries still require full pours. Sure, most will still offer a sample if you ask nicely, but I doubt they really want to do that 20 times for me. I’m an accomplished drinker, but I think 20 full pours of even the lightest beer is bound to turn my ride home into the vomit comet. Even 20 pours from a flight is probably pushing it, but I’m always up for a challenge.
Experimentation is a big part of craft beer. Brewers are continually pushing the envelope on new and old styles, and consumers are pushing their palates to entirely new thresholds. Beer flights serve a great purpose of opening people up to new styles of beer. I personally have had many surprises in beer flights that have ended with me ordering a full pour of one the beers I just sampled. I’ve also given friends and family samples from a flight that resulted in them getting a full pour of a style they’ve never had before.
Allowing people to try more styles will pay off in the end with a more educated clientele. Customers will be happier covering more tasting ground, and the brewery will create new fans of beers who might have never tried the beer had it been a full pour.
Taproom Only Specials
This is the item that might make me seem entitled, but I’m just going to tell you to deal with it for now. It’s a bit disheartening to go to a brewery and only find beers that are on tap all over the area or on the shelves of your local grocery/liquor store. When going straight to the source you have to hope there might be something new to try, and hopefully a new favorite to add to your list. Having just the same ol’ brews every time is a way to ensure people aren’t going to go out of their way to come back, and an even greater chance that they might not stay long when they do come.
Most breweries these days are pretty good about offering beers that haven’t hit the market yet on their taps. Many of them use their tap room to test new beers and gauge response before brewing large batches for commercial release. These pilot brewing programs are becoming increasingly popular for both brewers and fans of unique brews. It’s a great oppurtunity for both brewer and consumer to expand their horizons without much risk on either end.
Special release tappings are always great. Local favorite, Perennial Artisan Ales, usually offers a new beer every Thursday, and because of it has really great crowds each week. Many other breweries utilize social media to alert their fans when they are tapping special releases, and I’ve yet to go to one where it doesn’t end with a lot of happy drinkers.
This goes for any beer-centric establishment. If you have someone serve beer, make sure they have an understanding of what they are serving. In a perfect world all public facing workers at a brewery, taproom, or brewpub would be a “Certified Beer Server” or better yet a full Certified Cicerone®. We aren’t in a perfect world though, so that might be a bit much to expect. At the very least people in the business of serving beer should know popular styles, what flavors people should be looking for in these styles, and a general understanding of the brewing process. Keeping a couple people on staff that are well versed in beer would be a great idea if you can’t educate the full staff properly. Merely direct questions to him or her so customers can get a good understanding about what they are drinking.
Most likely if someone works at a place that specializes in beer, they’ll have at the very least a passing interesting beer. Keeping them educated on the beer they are serving shouldn’t be an impossible task. I know it is easier said than done, but call me a dreamer. To me a client facing worker at a beer bar who doesn’t know about beer would be like a librarian who doesn’t know how to read. When I waited tables, I wasn’t allowed to actually serve tables until I had taken a test that showed I knew the complete menu (including all the beers on it), and I could answer all the common questions regarding the menu and the establishment. Were there things I still didn’t know once they threw me to the sharks? Absolutely, but I was always surrounded by people who had the answers. Servers may not always be able to answer something off the top of their head about a beer, but they should have access to people around them who do know.
Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!