Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What I Learned Serving Beer for a Day

“Beer. Now there's a temporary solution.” 
-      Homer Simpson
(voiced by Dan Castellaneta on The Simpsons)

My son Sean (25 year old college graduate) was recently hired for what is arguably the dream job of every 25 year old:  beer salesman.  His new employer, Georgetown Brewing is the third-largest beer maker in the State of Washington.  Their primary claim to fame is Manny’s Pale Ale served by a large - and growing - number of venues in the Pacific Northwest.

Myself being more of a wine connoisseur (red, please) I haven’t spent much time delving into the culture of beer.  This was about to change.

One marketing method employed by many if not all of Washington’s indigenous brewers is to serve their product at beer festivals around the state.  My son was assigned to the Bremerton Beer Festival sponsored by the Washington Brewer’s Association to be held on July 21st.  Due to other scheduling conflicts, no one else from the brewery was available to help out.  None of his friends – beer connoisseurs all – were interested in helping him for free – not to mention the prohibition against helping oneself to the product during the work shift of nine hours (plus set-up and travel time).  There being no takers, my participation was solicited.  Hey, what are Dads for anyway?

The Festival was to be held in downtown Bremerton about one block from the ferry dock with a start time of noon.  Since I was the grunt, I let my son take the lead and he decided to drive around rather than risk missing the ferry by one minute and thus having to wait an hour for the next one.  He was concerned about being late for setup and, not knowing exactly how the event would be conducted, he decided that we would leave the house by 6:30am to allow enough time to load up at the brewery and make our way to the event.  We loaded up the company truck and hit the road, stopping at a near-by McDonald’s for our favorite quick breakfast: Egg-a-Muffin and coffee.  The rest of the drive was uneventful (tolls on the Narrows Bridge are only collected going the other way) and we arrived at the event at about 8:30.  We weren’t the first brewers there but were definitely among the first group.  It turned out to be a well-run event.  Our extra kegs went right in a cooler and they had plenty of ice on hand to keep the serving kegs cool and to fill the “jockey box” – basically a Colman cooler filled with coils for circulating the beer through the ice pack and taps for serving.  You can see our jockey box in the picture above taken shortly after we finished our setup at about 9.  Each brewer was assigned to a tent shared with another brewer.  Our partners were the Roslyn Brewing Company from Roslyn.  Like us, they were a pair of one company guy and one non-company helper.  So, what do you do in downtown Bremerton with three hours to kill?  More coffee.

The gates opened promptly at noon and within five minutes we had our first customer.  At most festivals of this type your admission includes a small glass (5 oz. or so) and 5 or 6 tokens (wooden nickels!) good for one fill each.  They tell you what they want (we had two selections) hand over their token and we pour them a beer and answer questions about the product.  I now have a slight understanding of what an “International Bittering Unit” is. 

The glass and token are the sole means of exchange.  The rules are simple; no glass or no token: no beer.  The Liquor Control Board is watching.  They introduced themselves early in the day and were seen walking through the event more than once in the afternoon.  Later in the day we had many people show up with their glass but no token.  One trick when you’re low on tokens is to not offer it thereby requiring the server to ask for it (hoping he won’t) or to act like you’ve dropped it in the box without actually doing so.  Late in the day we had one repeat customer who showed up with a token but no glass.  She wanted us to fill up one of our water bottles for her – a definite no-no.  She couldn’t tell us what had happened to her glass.  The exception to the rule is provided by the festival in the form of a few free tokens they gave us for “friends and family”.  We ended up using these for repeat customers as a good will gesture.  If you see the same guy or gal coming back for five refills he or she must like your stuff!  The beer business is all about hospitality – free beer obviously reinforces that.

Our business was steady all nine hours.  No matter how nice the people are though, standing on your feet all day becomes a challenge.  Except for bathroom breaks and a trip to the only food stand at the event (hot dogs) neither of us left our tent.  It became a case of “mind over matter” until last call at 8:30.  Our friends from Roslyn informed us of the next ferry time – 9:05 - you never saw four guys work so fast to get packed up.  The ferry doesn’t save much time but it does save the effort in driving.  It was a relief to simply sit down for an hour.

So what did I learn from this experience?

·       Arrive early – it avoids anxiety
·       If you’re not the leader, clam up and follow
·       Beer drinkers are a pretty relaxed bunch
·       Beer drinkers who’ve had too much are very relaxed
·       If your pour has more than ½” of head on it, start over
·  When supply is low (e.g., no token) demand responds with creativity (“Please, it’s just one!” or “C’mon, I REALLY like your stuff!”)
·       When you get a compliment, accept it gracefully with something like “We love to hear that!”
·       Follow the rules – you never know who is watching
·       A little customer service goes a long way – “How’s your day going so far?”
·      And lastly, if this financial advisor gig doesn’t work out, I know I can get a job pouring beer.

Application in client relationships

·       Be prepared for meetings ahead of time – it reduces anxiety
·       Talk less, listen more
·       Be relaxed
·       Be creative in meeting the needs of others
·       Always act with integrity
·       Accept compliments gracefully
·       Always look for ways to improve the client’s experience and satisfaction

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