Six Ways Bars Can Better Respect Beer

Unfiltered by | Apr 2007 | Issue #4

We’re not alcohol segregationists here at BeerAdvocate, so when we urge restaurants and bars to properly respect beer, we’re not suggesting they forsake Scotch or jettison their popular wine-by-the-glass programs. What we’re saying is, it would behoove them to stop and spend a little time thinking about the role beer plays in their establishments. Bar owners are busy people, which leads to many simply picking the six or eight most popular draft brands and calling it a day. So in the spirit of saving time and promoting beer—and sales—here’s a six-pack of ideas on how they can improve their beer programs.

Provide beer menus

It’s the first question beer lovers have upon entering any bar or restaurant: What’s on tap? For all of the regularity, it’s surprising how difficult the question is to answer. Customers shouldn’t have to make a breeze-by of the tap handles just to hunt down their selections. So create a beer menu. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Good beer guides include an updated list of available beers, a concise description of each beer or style, and the price. The best beer guides describe the brewing process and how to taste and enjoy beer. At Sheffield’s in Chicago, the handy beer guide offers straightforward descriptions and provides a glossary of technical terms associated with brewing and enjoying beer. At Monk’s Café in Philadelphia, the faded beer guides avoid beer descriptions, opting instead for style notes and notices for upcoming events.

Use proper glassware

Bar owners have slowly come to realize that beer’s inherent beauty is something they can both appreciate and sell. Where simple shaker pint glasses once ruled the bar, a bevy of oddly shaped glassware now matches the great range of beers available. The value of putting on a show when presenting beer cannot be understated. Big, shapely Hefeweizen glasses and rolling Strong Ale snifters make instant impressions on nearby customers. Beer is a multi-sensory experience and the process of promoting it doesn’t end when the customer orders.

Train your staff

Smart breweries, wholesalers and restaurateurs know that servers are the frontline soldiers in the war for better beer sales. Owners expect the waitstaff to know the food menu, so why shouldn’t they be able to describe the available beers? No need for a long soliloquy on the gentle interplay of malts and hops, just some straight facts. First, know what is available. I’m amazed at how often, when I ask what’s available, the response comes back, “We have everything.” Excellent, I’ll take the Thomas Hardy, 1975 vintage. Second, servers should never simply ask, “Light or dark?” Servers should know the list, where the beers hail from, and be able to offer some quick descriptive thoughts.

Offer samples

This could just as easily fit under server training, as it’s another way to interact with customers. The best servers can sense when a customer wants to trade up to a better beer. Consumers who practice beer monogamy are not adventurous by nature, so we need to strike when the chance presents itself. Offering a sample to customers who pause over a beer list is good business. Samples also give servers the chance to test out their beer knowledge.

Add a local draft line

It’s as simple as it sounds. If you’re like most bars, you offer a few macro standards on tap and round out the selection with Guinness, Bass, Harp, and maybe even Stella. Why send all your love to cash-flush European conglomerates when you can support your local brewery as well? You know who I’m talking about. Your local brewer is the guy who comes in every other week begging for a line. Why not give him a shot?

Hold beer events

Beer events were once the limited province of beer bars. Now, every establishment can get a piece of the action. Breweries and wholesalers know the value of direct sales and they now devote greater resources to promoting beer events in bars and restaurants, ranging from simple, on-premise tastings to six-course beer dinners. You don’t have to handle the details by yourself. Contact your local brewery or wholesaler to gauge their interest. Check out The Map Room Beer School or the Brickskeller’s [closed] popular education series for more ideas.

With a little time and effort, you can hopefully advocate for beer and raise your sales at the same time. Beer lovers will be sure to tip accordingly.