Beer, like pizza, remains a perennial American favorite—and it just so happens that the two go hand in hand. Even better, beer—particularly craft and draft brews—can be highly profitable all while satisfying today’s customer demand for variety and local options. Are you maximizing these profits? Experts share seven can’t-miss ideas for making your beer program an even bigger success.
1: Think and act local.
Local breweries offer fresher, greener products that keep money in your community, says Matt Simpson, owner/founder of The Beer Sommelier in Atlanta. He advises focusing your program on local beers, working with wholesalers to provide and choose the best options for your bar. “Local breweries offer year-round styles from light to heavy—something to please everyone—and their seasonals are also a hit with customers,” he notes. “Customers are more likely to try them and spend more for them, and local breweries are more likely to offer deals on kegs, meaning that a local draft pitcher may not cost much more than a national brand.”
2: Try a tap takeover.
Many establishments with successful craft beer programs host “tap takeover” events, partnering with a single local brewer for an evening to offer only that company’s beers on tap. Ten locations of one restaurant chain have hosted an “Old Beer, Stinky Cheese” night, partnering with Delaware-based Dogfish Head brewery to offer its rare beers paired with unusual cheeses.
Slice (slicebirmingham.com) in Birmingham, Alabama, takes a similar approach. “Partnering with craft breweries for tap takeovers helps to promote new products coming to the market, while bringing the loyal following of that brewery into your restaurant,” notes Slice co-owner Jason Bajalieh. “For example, Grayton Beer Company recently launched in Alabama, so in December, Slice featured all Grayton beers on tap, which promotes the variety of beers offered by that brewery and gives customers a chance to try something new in the craft beer world.”
3: Get creative with to-go.
Recently, Slice started selling growlers to go as a way to further its craft beer business. The pizzeria partnered with Trim Tab, a local brewery, to design and create the pizzeria’s branded 64- and 32-ounce reusable containers. Customers love being able to take home growlers of their favorite beer, so these add-ons offer both convenience and extra profits. Mesa, Arizona’s The Grid: Games & Growlers is one such arcade bar concept with a heavy focus on growlers. It’s even in their name!
4: Bring in the experts.
If possible, invite representatives (such as head brewmasters) from craft breweries to visit your bar and educate guests and servers, Simpson suggests. The reps will appreciate the chance to promote their product, while customers will crowd in to hear insider info about the beers they love—or are eager to sample. “Even larger craft brewers from out of state often visit markets where they are newly distributed, so be sure to build those relationships and ask for appearances,” Simpson advises. “Just like in a casino, the more you can get customers in and keep them there, the more the odds are in favor of the house!”
5: Teach your waitstaff to teach your guests.
Other types of pairings can also boost beer sales—specifically, suggested beer pairings listed on your menu or ready to roll off servers’ tongues. Make sure that your staff is up to date on everything you offer; they’re the ones who will be helping customers decide on beer purchases, and if they aren’t knowledgeable, sales will suffer. “A server will upsell extra beer by virtue of his knowledge, so staff education is so important,” Simpson says. “Servers and bartenders must know how to answer questions. They’ll be more trusted by patrons, and they’ll sell more beer. They don’t have to know everything, but they should know more than the average customer.”
6: Create a VIP Club or Mug Club.
With this promo, customers purchase an oversized mug (or can work their way up to getting one free by buying a certain number of beers) bearing your bar’s. When they bring it back, they get larger pours (such as 16-ounce instead of 12-ounce). It’s a huge incentive for beer lovers to drink more beer, and it works! Give them first dibs on special or limited-time beers at your bar, too.
7: Stay in touch.
Simpson points out that email lists are imperative for connecting with your beer loving customers. “Alert them about new beers coming up, including seasonals and special releases, and they’ll begin to look forward to those updates,” he advises. “These limited releases have a ‘get it while you can’ allure that sells more beer—and food.”
Meanwhile, The Grid: Games & Growlers’ Twitter account is almost exclusively used to update what’s on tap every time something new comes along.