When it comes to satisfying both beer nerds and beer novices alike, every proper Craft Beer Bar or Taproom needs some essentials to hit the mark. Get to know the following essentials and annoyances to make sure you make the right kind of impression to the intrepid beer-lover.
A Detailed Draft List
Every Draft list should include, at the very least, the following: Brewery Name, Beer Name, Style, ABV% (Alcohol Percentage), IBU (International Bitterness Unit), and price.
These basics ensure the proper selection of a beer the patron is looking for. Whether it be a short blurb, or the entire release notes from the brewery.
What would make your list even more complete? Brewery location, a short description of the beer, an ingredient or hop summary, etc. Beer nerds know what we like and no one will challenge you for giving too much info. Newbies will tend to gravitate toward styles, IBUs or breweries their comfortable with. Arm them with info.
Price you say? Yes. I do. You wouldn’t put out a wine list with no prices, so why would you put out a craft beer list without them? The assumptions customers make about price will cost you sales more often than it will make them. Knowing the “more expensive” beer is only $1.50 more than the other one they were considering will often result in an upsell.
If you don’t put the price on there, they might assume the more expensive beer is significantly more expensive and avoid it. This is especially true for one-offs and limited releases.
No one wants to find out only after they get their bill they’ve been consuming $17 snifters all night. They will resent it, hold it against you and perhaps cost you return visits.
Do you have several draft offerings? Then you should offer flights and sample-sized beers so people can try many different styles without drinking a pint of each.
Coasters instead of Cocktail Napkins
Cocktail napkins are not meant for sweaty craft beer glasses. They’re messy, not reusable, stick to glassware and there are better options.
Most breweries will offer re-useable cardboard coasters for free or reduced cost if you carry their beer (especially on tap.)
Coasters also provide a marketing opportunity for your establishment. They are often collected by many beerheads.
Most new draft beer installers are suggesting a cold water, glass rinser built right into the drain tray. Rinsers help bring the glass to the correct serving temp and allow for proper head formation and retention, resulting in a much better serving experience.
Glass rinsers result in a more consistent pour (read profitable) and make it much more likely the beer will be presented as the brewer intended.
Well thought-out beer selections
Yes, IPAs are still king of all craft beer and account for the majority of craft beer sales in the United States. However, only catering to hop-heads will result in the disenfranchising of those with other tastes.
Just like a steak house carries a chicken dish, you will inevitably have people who like a variety of flavors travel with each other.
For example, my wife prefers Stouts, Porters, and Belgians. If the beer bar or brewery taproom doesn’t carry at least a couple selections of them, she will not want to come back there with me. I love IPAs, and you may have an amazing selection of them, but you’re losing me as a customer because you are not satisfying the other members of my party and we won’t be regulars.
A 12 tap example: 3 IPAs, 2 Pales (1 fruited), 1 Stout, 1 Belgian, 1 Porter, 1 Barrel-aged, 1 Wheat, 1 Pilsner, 1 Blonde Ale. This is just an example. Your clientele, location, weather, season and many more factors will come into play in your decisions.
Rotate, Rotate, Rotate. You can always bring something back, but many craft beer fans like trying something new. If you have the same items all the time, you are shunning all those Untappd fans who can no longer tick off new offerings.
Knowledgeable Service Staff
There is nothing more frustrating than asking a staff member a question and them not being able to provide a reasonable answer. Even, “Let me find out” is acceptable.
The basics, however, should be present in all staff who has direct contact with the customer.
For every beer you carry, your staff should know the beer style, tasting notes, and some limited background in order to have an “intelligent beer conversation” with the customer.
Intelligent beer conversation example (minimum):
“What type of beer is that?”
“Well it’s an Imperial stout from ABC Brewery from Anywhere, OH. This beer has real strong notes of chocolate and coffee, and comes off pretty boozy…which I like.”
“I don’t want something too boozy, do you have something less so?”
“You could try their Porter, it has several of the same notes, but comes off easier drinking.”
“Excellent, I’ll take one of those.”
Beer-centric bars who can’t deliver this basic conversation to their customers will always struggle with legitimacy among craft beer enthusiasts. Exceptional craft beer bars will provide even deeper analysis to include ingredients, brewer tendencies, history and more.
You can only achieve a knowledgeable service staff with training and tasting. All new beers should be tasted by all staff. The cost investment will provide a significant ROI.
If you have more than 3 tables, you NEED table service. Many taprooms make the “self-service” mistake. Many taprooms are created by brewers who don’t have restaurant/bar experience.
Restaurants and bars know you’ll sell more beer if you have table-service. You can’t ignore this advantage in your bar/taproom.
Self-service (making a patron stand in line at the bar) also doesn’t provide opportunities to have those “intelligent beer conversations” I mentioned previously because they’re too busy just filling requests and don’t have time.
There is a direct link between whether or not a patron will have a second beer based on how long it took to get their first beer.
Table service also allows for a patron to be asked if they’d like another before the first one is completely empty which provides a much better service experience.
Most states allow for “Tipped Wage” minimums, so all you really need is to sell 3 more beers an hour in your taproom or bar to justify the ROI. It’s a no-brainer, and worth it.
Man (or woman) cannot survive on beer alone…although we can certainly try.
Whether or not your taproom/bar offers food, you’ll need to provide some sort of sustenance or you’ll ultimately be limited to 1 or 2 beers for the majority of patrons before they’ll need to go somewhere for a snack.
Food trucks offer an opportunity for locations not equipped with kitchens or who shy away from taking on such a massive undertaking. Work with those food trucks ahead of time to pair your current beers with their current offerings. These will enhance the overall guest experience.
If you have your own food operation in your craft beer bar or taproom, utilize the opportunity to highlight the diversity of your craft beer list. Craft beer, just like wine, benefits from proper pairing. Articles abound on how to pair properly. We’ll probably do one in the future on this subject alone.
First: Get rid of the traditional mixer/American pint glass. You know the one, it has straight sides angled from the bottom to the top. This type of glass lets the aromas escape immediately and does a disservice to the beer’s nose profile. Instead, use a standard piece of glassware with some sort of bulge or taper which acts as an aroma speed bump and gives it an opportunity to collect. An inward-tapered pint or Nonic pint glass are the most common upgrades.
Belgian breweries have long-specified specific shapes for individual beers. Great Belgian-themed bars often have dozens (if not hundreds) of different glasses specific to individual brewery’s beers.
Get rid of giant offerings. Most excellent craft beer bars do not offer pitchers or 32oz Pilsners, etc. It’s much better to enjoy 2 properly poured pints at correct serving temp, than a 32oz monster that is warm and flat by the end.
Snifters are a very popular option for high-gravity, aroma-rich offerings.
Proper glassware shapes for each type of beer style are available all over the web. One resource is often the brewery’s release notes for the beer. They will usually include food pairing suggestions as well.
At minimum a craft beer bar should have the following: Snifters, Tapered or Nonic Pint, Wheat Beer and Tulips. You can, of course, include more offerings, but these would be the minimum.
Many bars use stickers on the taps to remind staff which glass is used for a particular beer. This is especially helpful if you have a large number of taps.
Cleanliness – Bar, Glassware, Draft beer lines
Nothing is more off-putting than a sticky bar, dirty glassware or off-flavored beers.
Brewers work so hard to eliminate off-flavors and other issues with their beer, however they can’t control the last steps before getting to the customer (if distributed.)
Improperly pressured or dirty draft beer lines result in off-flavor profiles easily recognized by craft beer fans. If you serve them one of their “go-tos” and it doesn’t taste right, they’ll assume you’re not serving them new beers properly either. Clean and test your draft lines regularly.
Use proper soap and sanitizers meant for bar glassware. If you use the wrong stuff, you will end up with residue which interacts with the beer and causes off-flavors and hurts head retention.
Fruit and drain flies are an easy sign proper sanitation isn’t followed. They’re a pain in the butt. Cleanliness behind equipment, in coolers, and in your drains are necessary along with a qualified pest control specialist.
I am absolutely guilty of this. I have since changed my tune to “Drink what you like.” Understand when you hear someone ask for “something close to Bud Light” you have the opportunity to open someone’s eyes to the wonders of craft beer. Don’t respond with “Fizzy Piss?” or “You know we have GOOD beer, right?”
Think about it, you had someone introduce YOU to craft beer. Remember that first one? You now have the opportunity to be that memory for someone in your craft beer bar or taproom.
Listen to what they like and direct them to a good option. Many craft breweries are making excellent, easy-drinking lagers, pilsners, ciders, fruited pales and “crushable crispy bois” which are a great stepping stone to other, more flavorful beers.
“I don’t normally like craft beer, but this is delicious” is the ultimate testament to a properly directed patron and should be worn as a badge of honor.
Fundraisers, Beer Dinners, Live Music, or some sort of participation in local community events are required. These give a sense of community pride and invite potential customers in who might never have discovered your amazing craft beer bar or taproom.
Craft breweries are a very charitable bunch, and they want the outlets who serve their beers to be as well.
Many offer one-offs or limited releases tied to a cause (think the California wildfires, local park rehabilitation, animal shelters, etc.) These are not only opportunities to make an impact, but they are also opportunities for unique offerings that every great craft beer bar or taproom needs.
Events are also a way to keep your name in the mouths of the local media.
BONUS: No Glass Freezer
Glass freezers are for sports bars and for serving American style adjunct lagers. Freezing your glassware numbs the taste buds and masks aromas. Quite frankly, beers that become more drinkable or refreshing because of this are probably not the type of beers true craft beer destinations would carry.
Frozen glasses will also cause significant foaming issues and lead to beer and profit loss.
Glassware should be room temperature and cooled gently with a glass rinser right before serving.
Rotate just-washed glassware so the cooled ones are used first.
While this is not an all-encompassing, exhaustive list, stay-tuned for several in-depth guides to setting up your craft beer bar properly, staff training and more. Until then, cheers!
For more on the the No-Freeze glassware subject, check out this video from the Brewer's Association on the subject.
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Chuck Johnson is a 30 year hospitality industry veteran, former owner and has contributed to various print publications and radio programs throughout his career. Email at: email@example.com
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