Proven ways to sell more beer at higher margins

Sample beers

Imagine that a new customer has just taken a seat in your taproom.  Although they may by thirsty and craving the taste of some delicious local beer, they are a complete blank slate when it comes to knowing what to order.  Even if they are pre-disposed to an NEIPA, what’s to say yours is one that will delight their pallet? They may also be asking themselves, “I wonder what their new cream ale that is on the poster tastes like.”  They are in a moment of puzzlement, uncertainty and a modest amount of angst.  Your beer server can become a hero by starting out with a friendly greeting and a simple question, “Do you know what you would like or is there one of our beers that you’d like to sample?”  Immediately you are put at ease, you might ask a question or two and them accept their offer for a taste of the new cream ale.

In another situation, you recognize one of your regulars come in and take a seat at the bar and you greet her and ask how she’s been and how did her daughter do in the test she was so uptight about last week.  Then, you saunter over to the tap handles and pour a two oz. taste of the latest micro batch of a buckwheat sour ale that you have been tinkering with and offer it to her with a precursor that it’s something you are still working on and not quite ready for prime time.   You know that she will give you some good feedback and it shows that you appreciate her opinion as a genuine craft beer enthusiast.

Sampling your wares is one of the best possible ways to build a loyal following and grow your business.   Yes, the idea of giving away your beer for free can feel a little daunting. After all, someone has to pay for that — and when it comes to free samples, you eat the cost.  However, don’t let the cost of sampling dissuade you, because free samples can generate a lot of sales for you over time.

Here is a list of good reasons to sample often in your taproom or off site at other serving rooms or retail outlets selling your beer:

  • Introduce your beer to new audiences – make new customers feel welcome and take away the stress of deciding what to purchase by offering a short pour sample.
  • Foster relationships and inspire loyalty with existing customers – everyone loves recognition and appreciation. Don’t be afraid to offer your regulars a free pour on occasion and be certain to let them know you are doing it because you really appreciate their business.
  • Expand shoppers’ knowledge about the products you offer- How often do you find that someone is apprehensive to try something new, especially is it will cost him five bucks or more to try it. A one or two oz. sample may just open a customer’s beer world to an entirely new style of beer. Be certain to explain the key facts about the beer and why it’s worth a try.
  • Encourage repeat customers and more sales of new products – developing new tastes and styles is the lifeblood of the craft beer industry. Whenever you introduce a new beer, by all means offer customers a free taste.
  • Earn attention for your brand at or leading up to an event – This is especially true in the case of off-site events such as fairs, beer festivals, and retail tastings. In addition to offering a free taste of your beer, be certain to hand the taster a bounce back offer, good for a discount on their first pour back at your taproom.
  • Get feedback on product development – As you and your crew work on developing new beers it’s helpful to eliminate some natural in-house taste or style bias with additional opinions. By offering tastings to your regular customers you will get a better idea of just how much interest there might be in your new offering. Sampling also helps build up anticipation of the final release of the finish project and keeps fans involved.

Real Brewery case study – the numbers tell the story

In an article published (3/16/2016) by the Craft Brewers Association, written by Tim Brady, I found some test results that point to the fact that sampling is indeed good for your business for both sales and profits.  Scott Ungermann, production director at Anchor Brewing in San Francisco told this story. In 2014 their taproom implemented a system to track sample pours. They offered one-ounce samples at no cost, but asked staff to start entering them into our point-of-sale system. Over the course of two years, some interesting data has

  • 71 percent of guests who request a sample of a beer go on to order a full-sized pour of the same beer. That’s good news! We’re helping them make the correct choice and then allowing them to validate the decision on their own.
  • Guest checks that contained at least one sample had a 35 percent higher craft beer sale than those without a sample pour. Guests who tried a sample spent more money on either more beer or more expensive beer.

After seeing these positive results, Scott and the team at Anchor Brewing decided to create a fractional pour program and see if that made good business sense.

Initially Anchor offered half pours for a reduced price. The number of unique beers on checks increased, while the average check value remained about the same. However, the number of free one-ounce samples decreased significantly. Therefore, their per-keg profit increased slightly.  Next, they began offering every draft product in a four-ounce size. That became the standard small pour for all beers regardless of the full pour size, which ranged from eight to 20 ounces Doing so created a more reasonably priced option for some of our more expensive offerings.

At this point the number got very interesting. Anchor’s average profit per keg increased 15 percent. In addition, the staff learned quickly that suggesting four-ounce pours instead of free tastes was a way to build check value (and therefore tip value). The number of free samples on checks dropped by one-third, and the number of four-ounce pours more than made up the difference. In some cases, they even elected to offer rare and specialty kegs only in four-ounce pours, extending their availability to more people and increasing the margin of the keg.  Net result, Anchor was making more money for the same work, while also exposing guests to more brands!

These changes resulted in an 18 percent increase in revenue, with only a four percent increase in customers. In addition, the number of brands on checks went from an average of two to four. As an added benefit, the overall sentiment of the guest experience, conveyed in person and online, improved. Many online reviews mention the ability to create your own four-ounce flight as a reason for making the trek to our out-of-the-way bar and beer garden.

If you want to increase your profit /pour and broaden the exposure of your line of beers to more guests hands down sampling and fractional pours re both strategies that you and your team need to seriously consider implementing.