Last week I dined at a local family-type bar-restaurant, one with good – if predictable – food and a limited drink menu. Lucky for me and my guests, however, they had switched out their beer taps and were offering a few brews unfamiliar to my guests. The server's description was enough for me – I'm adventurous by nature and career when it comes to drinks.
That's not true for most consumers; they hate making mistakes, dislike to complain or send items back, worry they don't know enough to decide whether a description matches what they like in an item, and simply tend to default to the reliably usual when in doubt. Before I could suggest that my dining partner taste mine, the server jumped in: "I could bring you a taste if you like."
Problem solved a few minutes later when the sample glass appeared and to an enthusiastic thumbs up and the server was able to ring the register for a $12 pint. Complicated cocktails and expensive spirits can't be marketed this way, of course, but draft beers and wine (including high-volume wines) are prime candidates for one of the most effective sales in the industry: generous sampling.
Even if only one in five samples returns a sale, the pour cost is hardly dented and the good will generated by being thoughtful and accommodating is incalculable. Especially as prices soar for wines by the glass and craft beers, counting on media enthusiasm or a product's allocation and rarity to make each sale won't often do. Rather, it's important to provide just enough of a taste to reassure the buyer her hard-earned cash will be buying her something she wants. Beer and wine makers know this, or else they wouldn't be constantly setting up tables at events and giving away product in tiny cups to anyone who wanders past their table.
When brewpubs first opened, offering tasters was standard operating procedure. Eventually the taster evolved into the sampling flight, once a profit-center as well as marketing tool when such things as IPAs were rare. But more mainstream operations need to remember that many of their guests have little to no knowledge, and less interest in the ins and outs of fermentation, hops, skin contact and lees as their better product educated and aficionado counterparts. What this particular type of consumer wants is something they can drink and enjoy while having a meal. If you don't have a process in place for promoting your beverages through sampling, you're missing sales, but more importantly, you're not giving customers what they want: the chance to feel like they know a place where the staff wants them to feel comfortable in their choices and able to stretch a little. Where's the downside in that?