So you want to open a craft beer bar?
Congratulations! You're about to embark on an amazing journey and one which will, we hope, see you fulfil your ambitions to establish a business based on a passion for great beer - not a bad aspiration to have!
Chances are you've already done initial research to make sure there's an audience for your new venture and you may have even found the ideal location. We can be pretty certain that you have a wish list of the beers you want to stock in your head: the classic Trappist ales, the strong Belgians and sour Lambics, the über cool American IPAs, German wheats, Scandinavian rareities and the best of the new British craft beers.
It all sounds perfect, we can't wait to drop in and join you for a drink, but here are a few pointers to help ensure you get off to the best possible start and keep you bar performing to it's potenital.
You and your staff are an extension of the breweries you stock: the way you represent, promote and serve the beers – remember, it's the hospitality industry! How good does it feel to be served a beer by someone who knows about the style, the brewery, maybe even the brewer? “Behind every great beer is a great story" comments Ian Clay "the breweries story is a key selection critea for the beers we've introduced to the UK". You can't expect everyone to be a walking beer encyclopedia but you'd be surprised at how a little knowledge can go a long way to creating a great drinking experience.
Know Your Customers
Sure there will be people just like you who know their beers, who have an opinion on what “craft beer” is, who have tried beers from breweries you've never even heard of and have posted their comments on Ratebeer, but there will also be customers who are just looking for a good glass of beer, something which has more flavour going on than the beers in the local pub down the road. Be careful not to alienate your core customers on an ellusive quest to serve the rarest beer in the land.
Avoid Crowding the Bar
It depends on where your bar is and the footfall you can expect but a good piece of advice is not to crowd the bar with too many fonts or taps. As a rule of thumb if you're not getting though at least one keg per week on each line then your large choice is at the expense of quality. It's far better to reduce your range and think about a couple of rotating taps to keep your offering fresh and exciting.
Let Bottles be Seen!
All too commonly premium beers are hidden away in under-counter fridges at the back of a bar with customers having to strain to see past bar staff to see what's available. These beers could be some of your highest margins so why relegate them to a second-rate location?
Don't be a Beer Snob!
Beer is the drink of the working man, the drink which has no heirs and graces yet can excite the palette of every man and woman, regardless of class or nobility. The world's greatest beers can be enjoyed for a fraction of the wine equivalent; it's an affordable luxury so please don't try to make it elitist. Remember the beer which got you excited and started you on your journey to where you are today? The one when you discovered something new? There are still a lot of people yet to have that same discovery: it may not be the same beer as you had your epiphany from but, when it happens, they'll know it. It's a one way journey and you can open the door.
Try Before You Buy?
You've got your row of brilliant looking fonts lined up along your bar but there's a few names, breweries and beers that aren't familiar to the average Joe Public. It can be intimidating. If there's a hesitancy, why not offer a sample to try? And don't limit yourself to pints and halfs – remember that 2/3rd pint is now a legal measures and can be a great size for stronger beers.
Let's Get Social
Pubs and bars are the original social interaction hubs, places where old friends met and new friends are made. Social media has taken on much of this mantel but the winning combination is surely when the two worlds embrace? Twitter, Facebook, Untappd, Instagram, Pinterest – when they're not in your bar, that's where your customers are meeting and discussing and sharing and advocating. Today's discerning customer is much more likely to be influenced by word of mouth (including social media) than traditional marketing, so if your bar isn't social, you're missing out.
Throughout the year there are obvious milestones and seasons for your customers to celebrate: Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving, Halloween, Christmas, 4th of July, St Patrick's Day. Add to this your own micro beer festivals, meet the brewer, food pairings and new beer launches and you've soon got a calendar packed with reasons for customers to keep coming back for more and bringing their friends.
If you are thinking about setting up your own craft beer bar, why not drop us a line? James Clay have over 25 years experience in the field of specialist and craft beers, we've run pubs and bars ourselves and we work with bars the length and breadth of the country, and we're happy to help.
Photograph: North Bar, Leeds, courtesy of Ben Steel