Tips for Hosting a Beer Event at Your Restaurant or Bar

shutterstock_153270062.jpg

By Fred Crudder, Foodable Industry Expert

Beer is hot. But beer events? Meh. They could use a refresher. Some of the old classics have served us well in the on-premise world, but if you keep recycling the same old stuff, you just might watch the beer lovers drift away. So let’s retool beer events, shall we?

Let’s Do The Numbers

In a recent nationwide survey of craft beer consumers by Ticketleap, they found that 94 percent of the people polled are interested in meeting other craft beer lovers. They also found that 89 percent are into trying new beers as often as they can. Good stuff, right?

That same survey determined that 91 percent of those polled want to learn more about craft beer and that 79 percent are comfortable spending $20 on a beer event. So they want to be grouped together, learning more or tasting something new, and that a $20 price tag is about right. Even better stuff.

Gimme, Gimme, Gimme

People like free stuff. We know this. But just giving people stuff for showing up is not only dull, it doesn’t match what the survey (or firsthand experience) tells us. The consumers are actually saying, “Engage me more. That is what I want.” Powerful message.

So how can on-premise retailers harness these desires into beer programs that engage the modern consumer, and ultimately create more loyal and devoted customers? The first step is to call in some help.

Brewery reps can do a whole lot more than just sell you beer and drop off promo materials. These men and women know their stuff, and they get paid to tell consumers all about their brands. They are also knowledgeable about beer in general. The survey told us that 91 percent of those polled want to learn more about craft beer. Heard. Brewery reps know a lot about craft beer, and they get paid (by someone else!) to teach people about it. So put ‘em to work!

New, New, New

The survey also told us that 89 percent of those polled want to try new beers. Breweries are always releasing new beers, and looking for retail spaces to tell people about them, and more importantly, to sample them. So when a brewery is releasing their new cherry chocolate Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels, for example, that is a perfect opportunity to get some of that brewery’s people into your establishment to talk about and educate people about beer.

But tasting one beer doesn’t exactly sound like an event, does it? No. But use the opportunity for your customers to taste something new as the foundation of the event, and build it into a bigger event from there. There are numerous ways to do that. Here is an example: Sticking with the educational angle, and still using that cherry chocolate Imperial Stout aged in bourbon barrels, the educational aspect of the event could be centered around the history of stout, the origin and explanation of and Imperial Stout, the inspiration for the new beer being sampled, what effects the barrel-aging has on the beer, and insights into what people are tasting in the beer and why. 

Tell Me More

If you don’t like that suggestion, here are a few more. That dark, rich stout will pair nicely with a lot of foods, from savory to sweet. You could demonstrate the diversity of dark beer, while at the same time showing off what your kitchen can do. Not feeling that one? OK, I bet the distributor that sells that stout has a catalog full of different stouts, all nuanced in one way or another. Use the distributor rep (as opposed to the brewery rep) to do a tasting that showcases the immense diversity within the stout category. Let people vote on their favorite beer. Make it interactive.

Round ‘Em Up!

Now that you have an idea for your beer event, how do you get the word out to your customers? Sure there are the obvious ways: social media, table tents, posters, advertising, etc., and there is no reason not to use those. But what about a club? You can create your own beer club that is free to join, and the members get invitations to your beer events (before you advertise to the general public), updates on new beers you are bringing into your establishment, and whatever special deals you want to offer them as incentives.

People like feeling special, and they love having access to something that is exclusive. By creating a club, you can accomplish both of those things for almost no cost, with the end result being increased repeat business and customer loyalty. Everybody wins.

Let It Grow

If creating membership is slow at first, don’t despair. Let’s go back to the “free stuff” for a minute. People love free stuff. Brewery reps have free stuff. They like to give free stuff to consumers, helping build brand loyalty. So add some “prizes” to your event, and now you have: new beer, engagement, education and free stuff. You can’t lose! You just gave beer lovers precisely what they want. All they have to do is join your club for more exclusive opportunities to get more of the same. 

Timing Is Everything

Weeknights are alright, but can be a tough draw sometimes. Hopefully on Friday and Saturday nights you are too busy for beer events. But how are your weekend days? If you could stand to juice up your weekend daytime business, you are in luck. In that survey, 78 percent of the respondents said they prefer weekend afternoons for beer events. Even better, lunchtime is not the best time. But that lull in the day between lunch and dinner? That is the sweet spot.

Look at the potential to capture some residual food sales from your beer event. Time it right, and you could either get folks who come in early to grab lunch before the event, or stick around afterward for dinner. Throw an incentive in there (exclusive to club members!), and you can pretty much guarantee those food sales. Furthermore, you know these people love beer, so there is a strong chance all of those checks have a nice beverage total on them.

By creating an event that combines a new beer experience, where customers are engaged in learning about what they love (beer!), and where there is free stuff, you can draw an enthusiastic crowd. Encourage those people to join your club so they can get exclusive access to more events, like the one they are attending. Allow them to bring a guest to subsequent events, making them feel even more special, and helping you grow your club membership.

Put your events in that dead zone between lunch and dinner on a weekend (Saturdays are always the best), keep the cost around $20, and you are on your way to hosting great beer events and expanding your clientele. You can serve a lot of beer samples for $20, and even throw in some munchies. By the time they are done sampling four to five beers, socializing with new and old friends, learning more about beer, maybe getting some swag, and nibbling on some food, they are most likely going to have one simple question for you: "When’s the next one?"