How to Start a Great Craft Beer Bar! [WEBINAR]
“Whether it’s a brewery or a great beer bar…it’s a craft. Everyone knows you have to work at honing your craft which means a commitment to excellence in all phases of the operation.”
-Tomme Arthur, Director of Brewery Operations, Lost Abbey
Opening a craft beer bar or tap room is a risky business, but that’s not to say it can’t (or shouldn’t) be done! The craft beer industry is unique and those who run a craft bar form a tight-knit community. Those brave souls who have gone before you have a lot of knowledge about the right (and wrong) steps to take before you even open your doors. Here are a few pointers garnered from craft beer entrepreneurs who have “been there, done that” to set you up for success.
Establish a Culture
The craft beer industry is a distinct culture. Each brewery seems to have their own subculture to bring to the table, and your bar should reflect that. Owning a craft beer bar or tap room already makes you stand out, but why not choose a theme to center the atmosphere around?
Don’t be afraid to be different. Give patrons something memorable to take home with them. Three Aces in Little Italy, Chicago, holds a night of bondage bingo, while Milwaukee’s Romans’ Pub makes you feel like you’re in someone’s living room because, well…..you are. Owner Mike Romans’ bar is set up in part of his house. Of course you can always go with a common theme, like an Irish Pub, just make sure you are choosing something to set yourself apart from the rest.
A craft bar owner should hire people who have a passion for the industry. Any staff member can be taught a new menu, but not everyone will have extensive knowledge of the products or how they should be served. With craft beer, for example, the turn around is very high. Taps are changed quickly and often. Keeping staff up to date and informed is essential to running a successful bar.
Some ways this can be accomplished is by holding monthly meetings to discuss the different flavor profiles of the new beers, wines or cocktails. Having them sample the product is key in their understanding of it. After all, how can they sell something if they have never tasted it? A passionate staff member should also be educating themselves any chance they get, and should enjoy learning more. They should be able to explain and describe the traditions, ingredients and styles behind each beer, so they can get the best drink possible in front of the customer.
Many Evergreen customers also use our extensive drink database (300,000 beers, wines and spirits and counting!) to educate staff. Some even use the print menu tool to print out comprehensive information about new beers that can be posted in a back room, drawing on the database’s descriptions, logos, ABVs, style information and more.
Respect the Craft
While craft beer has entered the mainstream, it is still driven by small brewers from a local community. If you pay your dues, respect others, and most of all, have a genuine affinity for beer, you’ll be “in like flynn.” Always pay the breweries what their beer is worth. After all, the opportunity to sell awesome beer is earned, not asked for.
When it comes to selling craft beer, just remember a few simple things.
- Availability – Understand that when it comes to craft beer, there is only so much made per batch. When it comes to availability, you have better chances of discovering beers closer to home. Don’t stray too far.
- Release – Once you get in good with a brewery, you may be offered a limited-release beer. This is not available to just everyone, and you have to act fast. Most breweries will expect a little something in return, like carrying another seasonal beer for them.
- Limits – There is generally a cap on the number of locations in which a brewery wants to sell their beer. They usually only have enough to go around for a certain number of bars, and you certainly want to be on that list. Get in line! When starting a craft beer bar, you have to earn your place.
Knowing the correct temperature at which a drink should be served is also important. A product can be served very cold, cold, cool, cellar and warm. Lighter colored beers and wines are generally served on the cooler side, whereas darker products are served more towards warm. Cocktails can vary.
There are many ways to achieve the correct temperature. Don’t solely depend on a cooler’s thermostat dial markings. Using an NSF calibrated refrigerator thermometer is one way to spot check your temps. Other ideas craft bar owners have come up with range from using heated glasses, to installing a “flux capacitator,” which monitors not only temperature, but pressure as well. Your budget may indicate exactly what route you take, but knowing that the temperature is important is the first step.
Don’t be Shy
The only way you’re going to get in good with local brewers, is by paying them a visit and shaking their hands. Most breweries have touring hours, and getting to know the people in the business prior to opening your craft beer bar, is essential. Not only that, it will help to build your knowledge of craft beer, and particularly, what you choose to sell in your bar.
Try and discover the next big brewery before anyone else has. You may have a difficult time getting in good with the “it” brewery in your area, but if you stroke the ego of the next up-and-coming brewer, you’ll have a front row seat to future revenue.
Technology is Your Friend
Keeping menus updated and guests informed is a big challenge for most craft beer bars and tap rooms. Some bar owners find themselves printing several menus a day, while others have websites, Google menus and social media pages that are outdated. But rest assured, the right software can do wonders! Evergreen’s menu tools are a key time-saver for high-rotation bars. Evergreen’s database lets you search for and add a new beer (or wine or spirit) without hunting down all the details on Google. Once you’ve added a drink, your digital board, print menu, web menu, Facebook menu and even your Google menu will immediately update. Go crazy with all those new taps!
Get Customers in the Door – Webinar
You have to get customers in the door immediately to get your craft beer bar or tap room off to a strong start. Watch the webinar for tips on building awareness on social media and in craft beer promotions. Once they’re at your bar, customer communication is key. Be sure your print menu and digital menu boards clearly display your specials. You can even use menus to promote upcoming events or special items. And don’t forget about the importance of maintaining an active social media presence!
Overall, integrity, respect, and patience go a long way in this business. Although you may feel like you’re being “hazed” at first, the craft beer industry truly is like a family, and once you’re in…you’re in. Whatever challenges you may encounter, being a craft bar owner is an exciting venture. You’re keeping the world fresh and involved with new drinks, flavors and culture. Cheers to that!