Updated: Mar 24
For a short while there, I managed the taproom at one of our local breweries in New Orleans. My job was a mixture of inventory, managing bartenders, dealing with the bank, pouring beer, and most importantly, talking with our customers. I also spent quite a bit of time on the brew floor. I gained some great insights into the taproom aspect of breweries - some glaringly obvious to me and others that didn't become obvious until I had spent a lot of time slinging beer and chatting. Here's a quick list of things I learned.
1. FAMILY AND DOG FRIENDLY TAPROOM BRING BUSINESS
How is a brewery different from a bar? Well, many ways I suppose - but one of the biggest differences is the environment. I'm not talking about the decorating, or the part of town the bar or brewery is in; I'm talking about the feel of the place. Bars can have any range of feel, from swanky and pristine to smoky and downright grungy. Regardless of the bars feel, you likely will not see kids running around or puppers meandering amongst the crowd. There are exceptions of course, but for the most part, bars are no place for kids or pets.
Breweries fill in the gap. Parents look for any avenue that allows them to get out of the house, socialize, and drink while keeping close watch on their kids. Same thing goes for pet owners. Because breweries welcome this demographic, it affords them a steady stream of returning customers. Our brewery courtyard was constantly buzzing with kids, dogs, and families having a great time.
2. MAKE THE TAPROOM BAR INVITING TO SIT AT
I love sitting at the bar. Restaurant, bar, brewery, it doesn't matter. There's something about being up close to the action that makes the experience that much better. I have seen breweries that have big, beautifully hand crafted bars that stretch as long as the space allows, and others, such as the brewery I worked at, that was just big enough to fit 4 people comfortably. Of course, that brewery made up for this by having an awesome courtyard scattered with comfortable tables and seating. But I noticed that if people were not sitting at the bar, the bartenders or myself could not talk to them about the brewery, the beer, or anything else that might drum up their interest in sticking around a little longer. The patrons that did sit at the bar glued themselves to their seat listening to us yammer on about the latest experimental beer we were whipping up, all while ordering an extra pint or two.
3. PEOPLE LIKE ROTATING BEER LISTS
Bars are like fast food chains... you know what they're going to have. They're going to have Bud Light, White Claw, and the same local beer staples that rarely rotate. Patrons of breweries seek out breweries for many reasons, but new beer is always at the top of the list. Our customers were always asking, "What's new this week?", or "I didn't get to that one last time, let's try that!" Constantly keeping our customers guessing kept them coming back, wanting to know what we could cook up next. Even if they didn't like the beer, who cares?! They still enjoyed the experience of trying something new and original.
4. PEOPLE CALL BEER BY ITS STYLE, NOT ITS NAME
This one kind of surprised me, but it was instantly obvious. Let's say your tap list looks like this:
Afterglow - A Pale Ale with Mosaic hops, 5.8%
Far Out - Juicy IPA dry hopped with Citra, 6.2%
End of the Line - Barrel aged stout with local coffee, 7.6%
7 out of 10 people will order their beer like this, "I'll take the pale ale", or "Can I get two of the stouts?" Not, "I'd like a Far Out". Why does this matter? It's just something to keep in mind. When you format the beer list, make it VERY obvious what the type of beer is, because that's what people know. Come up with clever names to attract attention.
5. BREWERIES NEED A "DOMESTIC" EQUIVELANT
Brewery patrons are adventurous and have likely been to many breweries before because they enjoy the experience and the beer. But their friends they drag along may not share the same feelings. This happened all the time at the brewery. Regulars would bring in a few friends who drink nothing but pale domestic lagers. These types of beer drinker WILL NOT go out of their comfort zone. I can't tell you how many times I asked confused looking first-timers "What kind of beer do you normally drink?" already knowing the answer in my head. We had several "lighter" beers on tap, but even these were often too "heavy" for your typical domestic beer drinker. If I had a brewery of my own, I'd have a light colored session beer on tap specifically tailored to non-adventurous customers. And I'd be happy to have them.
6. BEER NAMES THAT START WITH A FLAVOR OR FRUIT ARE APPROACHABLE
This is something I noticed over time. We had beers with cool names that had nothing to do with what kind of beer it was, and then we had some that had some characteristic of the beer built into into the name. For example, let's say your brewery has two IPA's on tap, each similar in style and characteristics, but one is brewed with orange peel. The IPA section of your tap list looks like this:
Orange Crush - A west coast style IPA brewed with orange peel, 5.9%
Rally Hawk - A west coast style IPA dry hopped with Galaxy, 6.1%
I guarantee you will sell more Orange Crush than Rally Hawk. There's something about having a descriptor in the name of the beer that draws people to it, especially if it's a fruit. It also makes it more approachable for novice craft beer drinkers.
7. BEER NAMES SHOULD BE EASY TO SAY (AND ORDER) IN PLURAL
This is huge! Having long complicated names drives people away from ordering them! I don't care how cool it sounds or if there's an awesome story behind it - if the beer name is too hard to say, people don't order it!
Think about it - in our lazy, attention deficit world, would people rather read (and then say) a beer named "My Mother Said There Would Be Days Like This"
- or -
Would they rather read (and then say) a beer named "Gridiron Stout".
The name length is only part of it though. If people have a hard time pronouncing it, they won't order it either. If you're an American brewery, stick to English. Lastly, make it a name that is easily said in plural. When a customer comes up to the bar to get the next round for their buds, it's awkward to say, "Can I get four Walk Around With Lulu's?", whereas it's less awkward to say, "Can I get four Little Birds?"
Keep your beer names short, easy to read and pronounce, and easy to say in plural.
8. DON'T KEEP MERCH OR GO-BEER BEHIND THE BAR
At the brewery, we had a glass front cooler behind the bar stocked with 6-packs for purchase to go. The owners shifted a few things around one weekend, moving the beer cooler our from behind the bar, and placing it next to the other merchandise. Literally overnight, our to-go beer sales from 6-packs doubled. Why? Simple human psychology. People don't like asking for stuff.
With the beer cooler behind the bar, they had to ask myself or a bartender to grab a 6-pack for them. After the cooler was moved out front, they could just grab what they wanted and pay for it at the bar. With the exception of draft beer, keep everything else you are selling where people can get it for themselves.
9. HAVE YOUR TAP LIST POSTED PLACES OTHER THAN JUST BEHIND THE BAR
My vision is not the greatest, I have a hard time reading small text at a distance. Many breweries, due to limited space, have a simple walk-up bar with a beer list posted on a TV or chalkboard. I noticed every time we were busy enough to have a line, people towards the back struggled to read the tap list until they got up to the bar. This created two problems: First, it slows the line down, because now people have to figure out what they want when they get to the bar, rather than while they were waiting in line. Second, it makes them feel rushed. When they felt pressure from the antsy people behind them, they often would order the first thing they saw, rather than what they really wanted.
The solution? Post the tap list EVERYWHERE in the taproom. On the tables, at the bar, on the walls - hell, put them in the bathroom stalls! Make it easy for people to study the list and really figure out what they want without feeling rushed.
10. FORMAT THE TAP LIST
Having an easily readable tap list is critical. It drives me crazy when I can't read a brewery tap list because it was hastily scribbled on a chalkboard. Digital tap lists are great tools for smaller taprooms. With the right software, the tap list can be easily displayed and controlled by the taproom staff. Make the font clear (no fancy styles), and as large as possible.