Nearly everyone loves beer in Australia, but if you want to sell more of it, it’s worth keeping it complex. Ben Canaider explains.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, there’s a 42 per cent chance that every time a customer walks into your licensed premise, that customer will order beer. I base this statistical chance on recent ABS alcohol sales figures: 42 per cent of all alcohol sold in this country is beer.
This leaves—according to the ABS—38 per cent of total alcohol sales to wine and 20 per cent to spirits, which includes the ready-to-drink (RTD) sector. How these statistics affect your own on-premise beer sales strategy is simple: keep it complex. Allow me to explain.
In 1981 beer represented 76 per cent of total alcohol sales in Australia. That made running a pub pretty easy. Nowadays, with a smaller total sales category, beer is competing with perceived ‘lifestyle’ beverages (such as wine), and other fashion and trend-driven alcohol choices—namely spirits, through all their guises; not to mention cider, which is the drink of choice for the 18-25 demographic, both women and men.
Yet 42 per cent default demand for beer is not such a bad target for your business to be aiming at. You have to make your decoy duck call all-too alluring, however. You have to make your beer list satisfy every angle of the new beer-spotter market, because beer drinking has stratified in ways that make wine connoisseurship look a bit suburban.
To begin with, separate packaged from tap.Tap beers will be a matrix pretty much set by the deal you may have done with a brewer or supplier. Big pubs might run 12 taps in a single bar; a smaller establishment, like a cafe or wine bar, might run just one tap. What comes through that tap reflects the business.
Smaller bars are well suited to Euro tap beers made locally under licence, because if beer is perceived to be European, customers think it is okay to drink it out of a glass for $8. Similarly, locally brewed craft or boutique beers can add some bespoke cachet to your bar, suggesting that you value artisinal products and low carbon-footprints and so on. This is not to demean the quality of some locally made boutique beers. Of course not. Fresh beer made well will bring in customers.
If you are a smaller operation, the other considerations revolving around tap beer installation are twofold: i) will the supplier install the tap; and ii) will the supplier offer proprietary glasses to sweeten the deal even further? This set-up can seem nothing but win-win to small bar operators but there is a downside. A sponsored or contracted tap will bring with it limitations on your bar’s personality. You’re stuck with the tap. Proprietary glasses are also—invariably—made out of the same sort of glass that the Six Million Dollar Man used to jump through four times every episode. You look at such glass and it shatters. Actually, what really annoys me about proprietary glasses is the way their rims chip. This is often not noticed by staff, but by a customer’s lip. You end up having to replace the drink, with profit going down the drain.
Packaged beer is where you can express some more individuality, however. And your over-arching strategy with such beer these days relates to food. Yes. Food.
Boutique and craft beers have fuelled this emerging demand among beer drinkers, who see wine as too complex to understand, yet beer as something unthreatening and reliable—at least where the first steps of gastronomy are concerned. Pub food has suited the niche, with ales—in all their chewiness and texture—suggesting natural and balanced links to pies, stews and parmigiana. Ale also helps to further stratify the beer category along seasonal lines. Stouts in winter with oxtail ragu; amber ales in autumn with a mushroom risotto; and then a return to lagers—all fresh and pert and bright—in spring to get you through to Easter.
Lager also makes more sense with Asian food—the clean and malty quality in the beer dealing with spices, heat and more pungent herbs, such as coriander. If you’re serving dumplings and you don’t have Tsingtao on the beer list, well…
Of course, with packaged beer there’s also an option to be a little retro or to offer something unfussy. There’s a bar around the corner from me that sells Melbourne Bitter longnecks for $10.The bar’s clientele are remarkably loyal. Such loyalty might quickly diminish though if the First and Only Immutable Law of Beer should ever be broken: beer has to be COLD. Icy cold.
Fridge temperature is amateur stuff; if you’re not transferring packaged beer from fridge to ice slurry troughs behind the bar then all you’re doing is guaranteeing slow sales and cranky customers.