When Melissa Romano walks into a brewery taproom, her eyes don’t seek out the tap list. A graduate of the Cornell University College of Architecture and former professional architect, Romano instead stops to consider her first impression of the space. “I think when you walk in the front door for the first time, whether it’s how the staff greets you, or what the doormat looks like, or what’s displayed on a merchandise wall in front of you, your first impression is really going to set the tone for your experience,” she says.
At the recent Craft Brewers Conference, Romano presented a seminar titled “Designing a Taproom that Tells Your Story, Sells Your Beer, and Builds Your Community.” A co-owner with her husband Jason of the Lake Ann Brewhouse in Reston, Virginia, Romano is also a member of the Brewers Association’s Board of Directors, representing Taproom Brewers. And her background in architecture and design provides a solid basis on which to judge the many taprooms she visited before building her own.
Design Deserves Your Attention
A key takeaway from her CBC talk was that design matters. “Your beer has to be really good, that’s a given,” Romano says of breweries seeking to operate today. “But the setting in which you present it to your customer can absolutely make or break it for you.” She gives an example born out by experiments about the importance of a room’s design conducted in the food and beverage industry. In a well-designed and attractive space, Romano notes, “[y]ou can take a real subpar product and sell it to someone as if it were an upscale product, and they will believe everything you say about it. And that is not me saying that you should make bad beer and trick people into thinking it’s good. If you already have a good product, you can make it better or make the experience of enjoying it better by providing a great environment. Romano describes that first impression of a well designed space as placemaking. “That’s kind of a loosey goosey term in the design world but there’s something to it really, about how you feel when you walk into a place that changes your attitude about it.”
Location, Location, Location
Romano’s first piece of advice is “to know your location, know yourself, and know your brand.” This starts with not fighting against the natural elements of the space and nearby structures (such as trying to drop a bohemian brewery design into a contrasting neighborhood). “Are you in a historic downtown and a 200 year old building? That may not be the place to put a hip modern interior,” she notes. For Lake Ann, Romano drew inspiration from the town of Reston and the plaza full of mom and pop shops that adjoin her taproom. Lake Ann’s interior is filled with mid-century modern design elements that reflect the concrete and brutalist architecture of the historical building they occupy. “Really what you want to do is pay homage to what you’ve got,” she says.
Logistics, Logistics, Logistics
Before you start daydreaming about all of the plants, art work, and other design elements you want to fill your taproom with, there is a key question that must be answered. “I think the most critical thing to think about is knowing what you are allowed to do in a place,” Romano says. She recommends that you start by addressing any zoning issues, including whether the space you are considering is actually zoned for manufacturing. Consider whether you can fit all your equipment into the space. If you’re not allowed to put your glycol chiller on the roof because of a historical property designation, the space may not work.
“We all know our strengths and weaknesses, and if you’re not a designer, hire a good designer, or hire somebody to give you ideas and help you match your aesthetic to your interior,” Romano says. “It’s really easy to just do the same thing that everybody else is doing. And maybe you think design doesn’t matter and you just want to serve beer. But I disagree. I think it absolutely matters. I think when you’re serving great beer but the brewery next door and the one in the next town over are all serving great beer, there’s going to be a reason why people choose one over the other.” There is so much that goes into designing, coordinating, and executing great design, that it helps to have a designer or consultant aid you in the process.
Determining Your Style And Stand Out
Another existential issue Romano recommends contemplating is the nature of your brand and what you want to be to your customers. “I think you have to know who you are, know where you are, and then know how to sell it, and knowing how to sell it comes down to great style, great branding, and consistency across the board with those things.” In the plaza adjacent to Lake Ann’s taproom, all of the businesses used blue and white umbrellas. So to stand out, Romano chose to highlight the color orange. The color stands out against a sea of sameness and immediately connects customers to her brand. “Once they get to our front door, and our orange logo is there, it replicates a design element of ours,” she notes. “They’re going to come inside and see the same orange repeated on everything that we do. Even in the bathrooms, on the walls, on our merchandise displays. You have to hit people over the head over and over with the same thing so that you’re instantly recognizable.”
This article originally appeared on ProBrewer.com in June 2022. All About Beer’s parent company has a partnership with ProBrewer.com to create original content for that website. New articles appear each week and su