10 Things I Learned From Working in a Brewery Taproom

For a short while there, I managed the taproom at one of our local hangouts, Second Line Brewing. 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.

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10 Things I Learned From the Taproom

1. Family and Dog Friendly Taprooms 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 smokey 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 filled 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 tap into this demographic, it affords them a steady stream of returning customers. The Second Line Brewing 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, Second Line 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 care?! They still enjoyed the experience of trying something new. and original.

4. People Call Beer by its Type, Not its Name

This one kind of surprised me, but it was instantly obvious. Let's say your beer list looks like this:

Beer Description

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" Equivalent

Brewery patrons are adventurous and likely have been to many breweries before because they enjoy the experience. But their friends they drag along probably don't share the same feelings. This happened all the time at Second Line, where a regular would bring in a few friends that had never been to a brewery and assume their domestic go-to grows on trees already in the bottle. 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. Second Line had several "lighter" beers, but even these were often too much for your typical domestic slammer. If I had a brewery, I'd have a light colored session beer specifically tailored to the non-adventurous customers that showed up. 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 in the name. For example, let's say your brewery has two IPA's on tap, each similar in style and characteristic, but one is brewed with orange peel. The IPA section of your beer list looks like this:

IPA's Description

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 long you aged it or how many pounds of Nelson Sauvin you added - if it's too hard to say, people don't order it! Think about it, in our lazy, attention deficit world, do people want to read, and then say, "Yes, I'd like a My Mother Said There Would Be Days Like This", or " Yes, I'd like a Gridiron Stout". No brainer. The name length is only part of it though. If people have a hard time pronouncing it, they won't order it. 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 Merchandise Behind the Bar

At Second Line, 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 (i'm just guessing) 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 them a 6-pack. 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 Beer Lists Other Places Places Than Just Behind the Bar

My vision is not the greatest. I don't need BCG's or anything (although I was issued some), but I do 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 on a chalkboard, TV screen, or whatever posted on the wall above the taps. If it's formatted well, then customers should have no problem reading it from the back of the line. However, I noticed every time we were busy enough to have a line, that people didn't know what they wanted by the time they got to the bar, because they couldn't read it until they got that close! This created two problems: First, it slows the line down, because now people have to figure out what they want. Second, it makes them feel rushed. When they had the pressure of slowing down the line and people behind them becoming antsy, they often would order the first thing they saw, rather than what they really wanted. The solution? have your beer list EVERYWHERE in your 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.

10. Format the Beer List

This goes mostly for the main beer list behind the bar. Make the font something simple, large text, and spaced out. If you are trying to cram every one of your beers onto a screen it will be too crowded and make it difficult to read. If you are handwriting the list on a chalk board or whatever, please! get someone with good handwriting. These things make a big difference. I thought our TV screen lists were cool at first, but then came to hate them when I realized that they were effecting how our customers ordered.

So there it is, some of the things I learned from my time in a taproom. Keep an eye out for a follow-up post on things I learned on the brewhouse side.

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