Making the Most of Beer

Selection, Staff and Operations Spark Sales

Selling beer has changed over the past few years, driven largely by the boom in craft beer. Craft has broken out of the “beer geek” ghetto and is a likely choice for a range of customers looking to imbibe. In turn, consumers are more beer savvy these days. “Variety” is the key word for beer drinkers, and smart bar operators are mixing up their lists, balancing the majors with the craft brews and the appropriate imports. Here’s how to start the process.

First, appoint a lead beer person. Create incentives for him or her to learn about the full variety of beer, and make sure he or she knows enough to stay ahead as trends change. Consider “cicerone” training for your lead bartenders — it’s the emerging beer equivalent of sommelier ( Then sit down with him or her and your wholesalers — all of them — to plan the best use of your coldbox and keg room.

Use the limited space you have to create a smart variety of beers. Check what other area bars offer…and be sure your beer mix is at least 40 percent different. Be prepared to change at least some of your beers every week, but keep some regulars in rotation: standards like Sierra Nevada, Samuel Adams and your big regionals. Also include a signature beer that’s a little unusual, such as a high-alcohol Belgian or a big-bottle craft. Make a tap and bottle list that you keep current (and correctly spelled); that’s one of your best selling aids.

Once you have the menu figured out and your head beer-tender in place, train the rest of the staff on the styles you offer. They’ll need to taste, and they’ll need the right vocabulary to describe the brews. For a comprehensive guide to beer styles, check out, under Style Finder; also has definitions.

Once the servers and bartenders know the styles and commercial examples, they will approach customers who are having trouble making a decision with confidence, offering suggestions that fit the drinkers’ flavor and style profiles.

Keep your taps clean; the beer that’s lost is a small price to pay for a great reputation for fresh beer. Train staff on draft maintenance — at least one person should know the common draft problems. (The Brewers Association has an excellent free manual at Make sure everyone knows how to pour: Open the tap wide into a tilted glass, don’t “pre-pour” into the drain and don’t let the spout touch the beer; it’s just not sanitary.

The trick to pouring is keeping the right amount of foam. The ideal pour for most beer is about ¾-inch of good foam. It’s pretty, it makes the beer smell better and it shows customers that the lines and glasses are clean.

Finally, deliver the beer to the customer with respect. Don’t slosh the beer over the lip, and don’t deliver a wet glass. If you’re using branded glassware, present it with the logo facing the customer. The same goes for bottle labels. If you’re delivering a bottle with a glass, place the glass in front of the customer, open the bottle, pour about half a glass and then place the bottle next to it. Never touch the rim of the glass or the bottle (even when you’re opening it). The presentation of the logos and the half-pour is a bit of class and gives off the impression that your staff cares about the beers and the guests.

If your staff members keep selling up, you can maintain your regulars while building a beer destination reputation that should start getting you the coveted limited-release kegs and bottles. This will get more people coming in regularly, meaning more business and better tips for staff, which is motivation to keep learning. NCB


Suggested Articles

Governor Gavin Newsom issued the order earlier this afternoon.

General Counsel, Jessica Shraybman, shares her advice for clients looking to negotiate terms with their landlords.

More than ever, we need Congress to help our independent restaurants which are proven to be a foundation of the U.S. economy.