What to do you do to keep them coming back, not just remembering that visit five years ago?
Well, what sounds obvious, but it really isn’t, is an absolute emphasis on the quality of the customer’s experience. It starts from the second they walk in the door. You can make the best beer in the world, but if your service is lousy, or it’s not accompanied by food that you’re as proud to put in front of your customers as your beer, then the beer doesn’t really matter, because people can get good beer anywhere.
And a brewpub can’t sell novelty anymore.
No, and I think that’s something all of us in this business think about—I don’t claim to have a corner on that knowledge—but the ones amongst us who are successful do really focus on that whole overall experience that the customer has. You can’t be one-dimensional; you can’t be all about the beer.
Here’s another challenge we have: when we hire a new wait person who, say, is 22 years old, they were three years old when we opened the Northampton brewer, and they were seven years old when we opened the Portland Brewery. So, from their standpoint, craft beer has always been around. They don’t remember what you and I remember, which is a time when a Heineken or a Guinness was the most exotic thing you could imagine.
So, what we are challenged to do is to make sure that our staff doesn’t take what we do for granted, because our beer culture is very important. One thing that has put a tremendous amount of wind in our sales at the Portsmouth Brewery, was to hire Tod Mott as our head brewer about three years ago. Up here in New England, as you probably know, Tod has almost rock star status amongst craft brewers. There’s a good reason for that, because not only is he a very talented brewer, but he’s so incredibly passionate about it that it’s infectious. Just his presence in the building has made a big difference in terms of the level of enthusiasm as well as knowledge.
We do a lot as far as training goes, but it’s a subtle process. It’s that old thing about leading a horse to water: you can provide them with all the training you want, but you can’t shove it down their throats. That sort of X-factor is the passion and the enthusiasm. Tod really delivers on both counts, on top of the knowledge and skills.
That’s a key component as well, is making sure that the beer culture stays front and center.
We hired a new chef this past summer. When I interviewed the fellow we ended up hiring, what tipped the balance in his favor was that he had spent a fair amount of time in Philadelphia, and when I asked him what sort of places he used to hang out, he said, “Oh, I used to go to Monk’s and Nodding Head.” OK, I thought, this is a guy who knows his food, he’s a Johnson and Wales grad, but he’s also a beer geek. All other things being equal, that is what tipped the scales in his favor.