Success in business entails giving people what they want, which helps explain why draft beer is a cornerstone of the on-premise industry. To a large degree, its enduring popularity can be attributed to it being pure, fresh and unadulterated, barreled in its natural state exactly as the brew master intended. Draft tap handles act like homing beacons. They immediately command the attention of beer drinkers entering a bar or restaurant and confirm they’re in an establishment that takes beer seriously.
In a perfect world, every ounce of draft beer you purchased would be dispensed and sold. However, industry figures reveal that operators lose roughly 23% of the draft beer they purchase because of overpouring, giveaways and theft, which equates to nearly one out of every four kegs. Factor in the lost potential revenue that squandered beer would have generated, and you’re looking at a significant hit. It’s difficult to remain successful under those circumstances.
Developing a Strategy
The downturn in the economy has made running at optimum profitability more critical than in years past. Draft beer is a significant source for potential profits — capable of yielding margins of 85 to 90 percent — and therefore represents a tremendous window of opportunity. Recouping those lost dollars is imperative.
Here’s the rub: Conventional inventory controls are ineffective at stemming the losses. Periodically venturing into the walk-in and shaking a few dozen kegs to determine their remaining contents doesn’t cut it. For that matter, neither does dispensing draft beer out of poorly maintained equipment nor tolerating improper pouring practices behind the bar.
What’s needed is a plan. Any strategy worth your time will concentrate on a major area of concern: equipment and maintenance. Considering the amount of money at stake, your equipment setup is worth a look.
The crucial first step is ensuring that your dispensing equipment is functioning properly. Draft beer delivery systems are complex structures of refrigerated feed lines, compressors, couplings and spigots. They require constant monitoring and maintenance to deliver the highest quality draft beer possible. Beer feed lines and spigots must be cleaned on a regular basis to prevent yeast and bacteria buildup capable of tainting beer with off-tastes and odors.
Any viable strategy aimed at increasing draft beer profits needs to start here. Although technical in nature and far from exciting, the condition of the dispensing equipment has a profound effect on the product itself. Only when equipment is operating at peak performance will your clientele be served fresh, great-tasting beer. Presenting them anything less greatly undermines your efforts.
Technical factors affecting the quality of draft beer can include:
• Maintaining proper pressure. Should the pressure in the feed lines drop below 12 psi, the beer’s natural carbonation will dissipate and the beer will go flat. Conversely, if the pressure in the lines exceeds 16 to 18 psi, the beer will become over-carbonated, which often is referred to as “wild” beer.
• Proper serving temperature. Draft beer absorbs heat rapidly. Even when served immediately, beer drawn at 36°F will rise to 38 to 40°F by the time it reaches the patron. If storage temperatures drop below 36°F, beer will lose its carbonation and go flat. Conversely, wild foamy beer is an indication it is too warm. The ideal serving temperature for most American and imported lagers is generally thought to be 40EF.
• Proper storage conditions. Because draft beer isn’t pasteurized, it should be stored at a constant 36 to 38°F to prevent spoilage. Storing kegs at higher temperatures can cause the beer to turn sour, cloudy or otherwise unpalatable. Kegs should not be stored near foodstuffs, such as in a restaurant’s walk-in cooler. Exposure to food odors, pooling condensation on the keg top, and/or fungal growth can affect kegs of beer adversely.