Beer Sales Flat?
Here’s How To Tap Into Higher Profits
Remember when beer was a no-brainer? When whatever you stocked flew off the bar and your profits soared? Sure, there were occasional promotions or specials, but it all required so little effort. Well, those days are gone because nowadays you have to really work for your beer money, and this means being aggressive with your program. Tough economy aside, there are countless factors, from inconsistent inventory to sloppy pouring techniques, which may contribute to flat beer sales. Don’t settle! From the high tech to the low cost, check out these tips to put some CO2 back into your beer game.
Clean as a Whistle!
As profitable as draft beer is, it can also be your biggest profit buster, and good housekeeping is a must. “The biggest area of loss across the whole industry is probably from turning customers off draft beer due to improperly cared for lines,” says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. “Beer drinkers are becoming more knowledgeable and brewer quality is so high these days that many drinkers know that the most likely culprit of a draft beer that doesn’t taste right is a line that hasn’t been cleaned frequently or properly. Every two weeks is the guideline,” he reminds. All it takes is one bad beer to turn off a customer and that could increase if he or she spreads the word.
It’s All in Your Head
It’s hard to believe but a large part of your beer profits (and losses) can be found in that inch of foam at the top of a draft. “Improper pressure or gas mix can lead to the quality of the pour, resulting in no foam or too much foam,” Gatza explains, “leading to loss down the drain. How many times do we see a bartender pour beer down the drain to clear the entire glass of foam? That isn’t right. A 1-inch collar of foam is optimal to allow for the proper aromas to develop in the glass. That is a matter of training. With regard to gas mix, brewers agree that a 70% carbon dioxide/30% nitrogen mix is appropriate for long-draw systems rather than the 60/40 mix used in much of the country. (Beers like stouts that are intended to have more of a nitrogen character would be a 30/70 mix.)” A training manual is available on the Brewers Association site, www.draftquality.org. You could also invest in an FOB (foam on beer) detector, which senses when a keg is about to kick and shuts down the beer’s flow. The line stays full of beer instead of filling with foam when the new keg is tapped.
We Americans love our beer in ice-cold glasses — the frostier the better. According to Bob Fenley, chief sales officer for TapDynamics, a draft management solutions company, that chiller may be costing you money. “If the chiller’s too cold, it causes a big foamy head, but by adjusting the cooler just a couple of degrees, you can reduce all that waste,” he says.
Not everything needs to be super-sized! Geoff Bond, general manager at TapWerks Ale House & Café in Oklahoma City says, “One of the most effective techniques for boosting profits is portion size. We make a point of using specialized glassware especially with the Belgians; they’re served in 8-ounce glasses.” He’s also not averse to raising prices when necessary but cautions there’s a fine line between profit and exploiting a product. Bond emphasizes the importance of proper pouring, lamenting, “I’m blown away how hard it is to get a bartender to pour a proper pint! There’s so much waste.” In fact, some breweries offer trainings and incentives to entice bartenders to pour the perfect pint.
Over Pouring and Under Ringing
It may not seem like a big deal but errors like mis-ringing a beer or pouring the wrong beer then tossing it can cost you big time. And, of course, there’s always the possibility of theft. Don’t be afraid to hold your staff accountable! When working with an operator, David Foster of Missouri-based restaurant consulting firm Foster & Associates says, “We look for a waste chart. Waste happens, and good operators track and manage it. There should always be a daily chart.”
Fenley with TapDynamics underscores the importance of accuracy: “When a beer goes over the bar and doesn’t get rung up or gets rung up improperly as a cheaper beer — that’s a retail loss.” Plain and simple.
Take a Trip to Cyberspace
If you aren’t actively engaged in the world of social media, you’re missing a huge opportunity. Between basic websites, Facebook and Twitter, there are myriad low-cost ways to market your beer program. For Bond, the use of social media continues to grow. “Everything is so viral now, it’s everywhere,” he says, noting that he routinely uses Twitter and Facebook to reach TapWerks customers. “We’re in an entertainment and ballpark district, and I can cross-market with a tweet such as ‘redeem game tix for a beer.’” The restaurant is also hooked up with Groupon and restaurant.com. On the low-tech side, Bond extols the benefits of using chalkboards in-house to promote daily beer specials, new arrivals and what’s coming because sometimes old school is all you need.
Beers Gone Bad
While the last thing you want is a keg that skunks, some beers just move slower than others. Gatza says, “…many brewers are offering sixtiles as an alternative.” What’s a sixtile? It’s about five gallons in size and is tall and thin, which allows operators to fit more kegs of different beer varieties in the cooler, rotating handles as they choose. Bond notes that if there is a beer that hasn’t moved in a while, he’ll Tweet or post on Facebook to promote it. That way, “they just fly,” he says.
The More They Know
Crafts and microbrews are hugely popular, and they’re not cheap. How are you going to move a $9 Belgian or a $15 high gravity ale if your staff doesn’t know how to sell it? At TapWerks, Bond routinely runs tastings and trainings for his staff. “People want a better product and will pay for it but only if they’re educated,” he says. Foster agrees, “Training is a critical issue, from responsible beverage service to obtaining the ‘perfect pour.’ Training should not be treated as something you only provide to new employees — it should be ongoing. Beer, wine and liquor knowledge empowers bartenders and servers to do a better job with their guests and to upsell (increasing profitability),” he says. “If the operator does not have sufficient training resources, we can provide training and/or go to the beer companies for support.”
The Next Big Thing
Everybody wants to know what’s hot, but how do you keep up? Bond recommends participating in beer festivals and events; be sure to check out the Craft Beer Pavilion at the Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas, March 7-9. “Many of the most innovative and trend setting breweries in the craft industry use these events to showcase their newest concepts and creations,” he explains. “In turn, I come back and incorporate these based upon their availability in this region. Being in the middle of the country, with limited access to the East and West Coast trendsetters, it usually involves me harassing brokers to pursue these products or reaching out to local breweries and challenging them to create comparable examples.” Bond says other ways to stay on top of trends is to read beer publications, and do your research. “However,” he notes, “the most proven method remains the trusty e-mail or text from a beer enthusiast who has just had the most ‘amazing,’ ‘exceptional,’ ‘epic’ beer on the planet.”
For growing trends, Gatza highlights IPAs from independent craft brewers, seasonal craft beers, Belgian-style ales (which often have a higher price point), and Belgian-inspired sour ales from small breweries.
These may be challenging times, but beer can still bring in big sales. As Foster says: “Profit does not happen accidentally...it requires planning.” So get to work! NCB
The Virtual Bar Manager
If you really want to amp it up, then go high tech and consider outsourcing. Several companies provide a range of draft system management services to beer-centric bars and restaurants, and some really dig into the nitty gritty of tracking every drop and dollar. For example, TapDynamics is a draft management solutions company that essentially functions as a virtual bar manager. By using a digital infrared flow meter installed in the beer line, the system can track everything that happens when a tap is pulled. Chief Sales Officer Bob Fenley explains: “We collect information from keg to tap and reconcile it to the POS. We provide analysis and help the client understand what is happening with the draft system. We can determine what you sold, what brand and when it was sold as everything is time stamped.” Not only can such a system identify theft, mis-ringing or over-pouring, it can track line problems by monitoring temperature and pressure. The company sends daily reports to the operator and is available for customer service 24/7. Fenley says, “The net result is not just financial, it’s product quality. We’re about integrity and credibility.”