Dennis Antoniello, general manager of Chicago-based Wickets, says beer is ubiquitous, now more than ever. With the popularity of microbrews and the influx of quality beers from small towns and big cities, beer is pervasive throughout the culture. “It’s become more of a situation where it’s not just someone wanting to drink a six pack, it’s fun to go out and hunt down microbrews.” It’s a “social networking thing” he says.
Although Antoniello has hosted whiskey, scotch and wine tastings, beer appeals to more people, he says. This was the catalyst to host a beer tasting, featuring different ales at the restaurant every Tuesday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. during the months of November and December. The first Tuesday will offer Lagunitas Brewing Company, followed by Victoria, Oskar Blues and Blue Moon Brewing Company.
Noticing the incremental sales in craft beers at the bar, Antoniello decided to capitalize on that for the beer tasting. And “Tuesday was a good night to try to do fun little things,” he says. “We’re surrounded by office buildings and hotels” so it makes it easy for businesspeople getting off work to come to Wickets during happy hour. He wants Wickets to become a “Tuesday destination happy-hour place,” he says.
The long-term plan is to continue the beer tasting beyond November and December and make it a year round event. That way, Antoniello can build a comfort zone between the bar and its customers. Customers “know you’re going out of your way—that you’re giving them something on a Tuesday that you didn’t have to,” he says. Also, he’s educating his guests about beers they may never have heard of or knew anything about.
Additionally, the beer tasting, which takes between five and six weeks to plan, helps Antoniello and his team build relationships with distributors as well as guests. In fact, he already has a good relationship with the Lagunitas and has worked with Sam Adams and Corona (who import Victoria) in the past. Vendors like it, he says, because they can show off their stuff in a nice organized, easy-going bar setting.
Indeed, this isn’t the first beer event that Wickets has hosted. Wickets has hosted beer dinners before, but this will be the first full-time weekly promotion. But Antoniello says bars have to be innovative. “You always have to try something,” he says. “A lot of times you hope your regular customers come and bring some friends.”
Though a lot of work goes into the planning the event, lining up distributors and marketing the beer tasting through social media channels and table tents, Antoniello says the bottom line isn’t making money, but building up a night to show customers something “fun and enjoyable.”
“You do promos and hope for the best,” he says. “We can have fun with beer promotions, and the customers enjoy it. It’s win-win.”