Craft beer has gone from a niche offering to being practically a necessity, with many consumers expecting to see craft brews on tap at even the most basic sports bars and small town watering holes. Sales of craft beer grew 18% by volume and 20% by dollars last year, Brewers Association Staff Economist Bart Watson said during a panel at the International Wine, Spirits and Beer event at the National Restaurant Association show last month. On-premise sales of craft beer continue to grow, and many markets are nearing what Watson calls “tap saturation,” with the maximum number of tap handles being occupied by craft beers.
Offering craft beers is a great way to bring in more business, but it’s important to follow a few key rules to make sure your craft beer program is truly adding value for your customers. Watson led a panel discussion with a representative from a large brewing company, a small craft brewer and an editor from a beer magazine to get their top tips on how restaurants can make the most of their craft beer programs.
Offer the right selection
One of the biggest takeaways from the panel may come as a surprise: Don’t offer only craft beers. While craft is in demand, most restaurants still need to cater to the general population in order to keep customers happy, and for many this means easy-drinking beers with big name recognition. “Don’t forget that Bud Light, Heineken and Stella are very big brands. If you have eight tap handles, you might not want to go 100% craft, because you could lose some customers,” said Scott Hempstead, director of on-premise national accounts for Sam Adams parent Boston Beer Company.
Even with craft beers, name recognition can help sell customers who may not consider themselves very adventurous when it comes to ordering a pint.”If you’re not going to have a big selection, and you want to bring people in, have something that might be recognizable if you’re in an area that hasn’t embraced craft yet. A Sam Adams or a Sierra Nevada or a New Belgium, those go a long way,” said All About Beer Magazine editor John Holl.
When choosing a craft beer lineup, Hempstead suggested that beverage managers keep and open mind and look into the various categories that craft breweries have to offer. “I would encourage people to remember there are more styles out there than just IPA,” he said.
Partnering with a local brewer can also encourage customers to explore what restaurants are pouring. “With 3,000 breweries in the country, it’s not hard to find a local brewer,” Holl said.
Focus on education
Another advantage of partnering with a local brewer is that restaurant owners and beverage managers can go directly to the brewer for knowledge about the beers they are serving. Holl said he loves seeing local beers on tap, “but I love it even more when a server, or the owner or whoever is pouring the beer can tell me something about the brewery that I didn’t know.”
Teaching servers how to describe and recommend different beers makes customers more likely to try something new, and proper presentation is very important to the customer experience. Jon Lang, head brewer at Triton Brewing in Indianapolis, Ind., suggested coaching servers and bartenders on what glassware goes with each type of beer and how to execute the perfect pour.
A cursory knowledge of beer is essential for all employees, but every restaurateur should “have at least one person on your staff who knows beer and can recognize off flavors,” Holl said, because even a bad beer perfectly poured is bound to result in an unsatisfied customer.
Get the right equipment, and keep it clean
Stocking a plethora of different glass shapes may not be practical for all bars and restaurants, but any place that serves craft beer should focus on offering the best-tasting beer possible, served in the most appealing way. That means clean tap lines, clearly-labeled tap handles and sparkling glassware. Holl added to this last point that pint glasses should be exactly what their name implies, calling out so-called “cheater pints” as one of the worst offenses a bar can commit.
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