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Dear Bar Owner
We know you have to make money. We know that certain beers are more popular than others, and that mass marketing creates a demand among the sheep for certain brands of beer, thus making them popular (but not necessarily good). We also know that having these brands helps you to pay the rent and, perhaps, carry a wider selection.
We also know that certain brewery reps can be aggressive, for example, nearly forcing you to do cookie-cutter beer dinners (Paulaner), showing up ready to install a beer tower (Interbrew with Stella Artois, Leffe Blonde and Hoegaarden), cutting you shady "deals" to get their beer on tap or walking in with a cocky, "You have to carry our beer." And we're sure you have your share of stories, too. But what's the cost to you and the consumer if you play their game?
The cost of giving into too many of these mega-brewery corps and wasting your time with their "order takers" (many don't deserve to be called brewery representatives) is your bar turns into just another bar and your customers are faced with the same boring selection of beers. It also does nothing to help support the local beer scene. When a big brand gets a tap handle, you can almost guarantee that a smaller craft brand of beer will get knocked off. We've seen this happen too often over the years, and it sucks, as it's a lot of work for the smaller breweries to get their beers on tap, and a fight to keep them on.
Let's assume at this point you care about beer and what we're saying. Here are some suggestions to help turn your bar into more than just another bar:
1. If you are going to work with the big boys, let's say you have to, be selective with whom you work with, and make them work for you. Squeeze the bastards for everything you can get. Use their "generosity" to pay the bills and offset costs. Remember, they need you more than you need them. You might not view it that way when you go to pay the rent, but it's true. It's your bar and your rules. Don't be a distributor's bitch.
2. Direct your focus to better beer. Look to the craft-brewing scene for brands that could easily replace some of the mediocre offerings that you might be carrying. Replace them entirely, or at least drop them to bottle-only status, if you have the room. It's also important to note that just because it's craft beer, it doesn't mean that it's good beer. Given this, you should also be selective with whom you work with. However, the vast majority of craft brewers are putting out some damn tasty brews, and the selections are staggering. We also recommend that you try before you buy, or check out BeerAdvocate.com for the latest consumer reviews. Don't let anyone push products on you. Get informed.
3. We guarantee that there's a replacement craft-brewed beer, that's good, for every major brand that you have on tap, or even in the bottle. Challenge us.
4. Invest in the proper glassware for each beer style, or grab as many free offerings as you can from brewery reps. Glassware is eye candy, and everyone has a sweet tooth for presentation. It's infectious and can result in more beer sales. And make sure that your glassware is rinsed properly, as residual detergents will immediately kill head retention, which is also part of the presentation of a beer.
5. Wine menus exist, so why not create a beer menu? Not a chintzy mixed list of alcohol beverages on some brewery's table-talker or an obscure place within your food menu, but a proper beer menu; listing the brewery, origin, beer style, alcohol by volume and perhaps a brief description. It shows that you are serious about your offerings, and will better inform and satisfy your customers, which in turn can result in better beer sales.
6. Rotate your offerings to avoid your selection becoming boring and stale. Sure, certain taps will obviously have the same beers on, but use your other taps to rotate among local and imported craft beer offerings. Create a list of specials, and alert your customers to upcoming offerings. This will help to create a buzz and a base of beer-loving regulars who will do plenty of word-of-mouth marketing on your behalf.
7. Clean and maintain your tap lines on a regular basis, and don't keep your kegs on for more than 30 days. Many bars have very apparent line issues and/or keep beer on for simply way too long. Nobody likes the taste of old or funky beer. And if a draught beer hasn't sold within 30 days, you are not turning over that tap, thus not making as much money as you could be. Put it on special quick, or just get rid of it, and replace it with a new brand.
8. This is pet peeve of ours: Dump the drink napkins, which stick to glassware (unless you sprinkle salt on them first). Use coasters instead, which are usually free from brewery reps and last longer, thus cutting your expenses, or print your own and double them as business cards / promo pieces for events.
9. Train your staff on the beer basics. Many restaurants do this with wine, so why not beer? For example, train staff on how to serve and pour the various styles of beer, which glassware goes with which beer styles, and encourage your staff to taste and get to know each and every beer or at least be able to find the info and present it to your customers upon request. Your new beer menu could be a great tool, as could regular staff tastings.
10. Ensure that your ambience, attitude and pricing is conducive to making your customers comfortable. You want your customers to actually stay for more than a beer or two, right?
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