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WRITER, CONSULTANT AND BROADCASTER SPECIALISING IN BEER, PUBS AND CIDER. BEER WRITER OF THE YEAR 2009 AND 2012

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Monday, 1 August 2011

Perfect Pub Service - how to charm and delight your customers in one easy move

While in Edinburgh last month filming the latest video blog, I made time to visit the newly opened Brew Dog Bar in the city.  We didn't feature it in the Vlog because it doesn't serve any cask beer, and that particular Vlog is about cask beer.  But as we were filming on my bleedin' birthday, once we'd finished I hooked up with my old mates Allan and McAlastair and we hit the town.

We ended up here:

I don't think it's ever this quiet

after 11pm, on a Tuesday night, and the place was buzzing, mainly with young, studenty people who seemed more passionate and knowledgable about beer than you might expect.

Brew Dog make headlines, and increasingly piss people off (or simply bore them) the way some people pick their nose.  They just can't help it.  Like Aesop's scorpion who stung the frog carrying it across the river, it's in their nature.  And perhaps the greatest shame about this is that it hides some of the true facts of their operation behind a screen of punk attitude.  Because much of what they do is really very good indeed.

The service in Brew Dog Edinburgh was incredible.  In parts, it was the best service I've ever seen in a pub or bar.

The main element of this is that if anyone looked hesitant or unsure, or simply paused a beat too long at the bar, the member of staff serving them would pour a small taster into a shot glass and offer it to them.  They might ask what kind of beer people like, or they might say, "This is my favourite beer, it's amazing, you've got to try it." Then another member of staff would say, "No, try this one, this is my favourite beer ever and they say they're not going to brew it again. I'm trying to make it sell really quickly so they realise they have to."

The bar was covered in sample glasses.  As soon as one person swept them up, they'd start dropping on the bar again as the relentless tide of tasters kept coming. And the money flowed over the bar in the opposite direction.

We've currently putting together the fifth Cask Report.  This year, we'll be recommending large programmes of samples and pro-active offering of tasters as the main strategy to overcome various barriers to drinking cask ale.  The thing is, we've recommended it every year, and it hasn't happened yet, even though every time we do research asking people why they don't drink real ale, they tell us this would make them drink more.  I've mentioned it before on here too.  I don't understand why more pubs don't do it more often.

Now here's a bar that does it in spades, does it brilliantly - and is rammed every night of the week with people paying premium prices for interesting beers.

Brew Dog Edinburgh's bar staff are young, hip and good-looking - as you'd expect from a company so concerned about its image.  I was quite worried they were going to be a bit too cool for school - not the case. They also happen to be friendly, enthusiastic, and visibly knowledgeable and passionate about beer.

Forget the CAMRA spats, the Portman groups spats, the SIBA spats, the stupidly strong beers and the roadkill.  Brew Dog should be getting headlines as a case study in how to hire, train and motivate brilliant bar staff, brilliant ambassadors for beer.

21 comments:

Neil, Eating isn't Cheating said...

It's something that all the best bars do but it sounds like BrewDog are going the extra mile here. Really refreshing. I always ask for a taster in any pub if im unsure of what to have. Interestingly the pubs serving cask generally oblige with out a second though but I dont think its common practice in places serving keg as the beer is generally going to be in decent nick, so its more a case of you pay your money and its your own fault if you dont like it.

At completely the other end of the spectrum i've always found wetherspoons to be good at offering tasters. They've even let my girlfriend have a sip of a wine before buying which is unheard of anywhere else.

Glad to see brewdog getting attention for the right reasons. bravo

Tandleman said...

What Neil said. I love hearing about good service.

beersay said...

I was up there about a month ago only for me it was on a dreary Thursday afternoon at about 4PM.
Although obviously much quieter at that time of day, the same levels of service were evident then, friendly, knowledgable and just attentive enough to not be in your face.

Great bar.

Cheers Phil
@filrd

Curmudgeon said...

On the subject of tasters, a distinction needs to be drawn between specialist beer bars and the general run of the pub trade. In the average pub they are, in my view, completely irrelevant. The thing that holds cask back there is indifferent and inconsistent quality.

Chris Mair said...

The staff are very good at BrewDog, no doubt about it. However the service you refer to isn't limited to the BrewDog bar in Edinburgh. You'll get the same standard in Cloisters, The Stockbridge Tap, Cask and Barrel Southside, Caley Sample Rooms, Golden Rule and many more. They all do samples (cloisters will do spirits samples if you really don't know what you want), and all have staff who are knowledgable not only about beer, but also whisky, rum, gin etc.

So whilst I heartily agree, the BrewDog staff are excellent, they aren't unique.

As for being 'rammed every night of the week', it's not, not even close.

Matt said...

Chris,

you are wrong on all counts.

I am in BrewDog at least twice a week and it is always mega busy. I would say rammed sometimes verges on an understatement, especially now as people spill outside with their beers too.

As for the service in the bars you mentioned, mediocre at best. BrewDog beats them hands down.

BrewDog is trailblazing a new approach to both beer and service in the UK and they deserve all the recognition they get for it.

BeerCast Rich said...

One of the keys is that BrewDog announced they didn't require prospective staff to have experience working behind a bar (as far as I'm aware, I think I read that somewhere). This meant they only needed to employ people who had that genuine enthusiasm - no need to be able to explain the finer points of cellarmanship - just buy into the attitude.

I've always had good service on BrewDog Edinburgh, and as Chris says that's not limited to just the Cowgate. Other Edinburgh pubs also have really upped their game, if you aren't really sure what to go for. It's clearly a vital point, to encourage more people to become adventurous in their drinking, but with a helpful and responsible attitude.

Phil said...

cloisters will do spirits samples if you really don't know what you want

That sounds like a system that's open to abuse!

"No, I'm still not sure... could I just taste the fifth one again?"

Mark said...

The passion Brewdog have for great beer goes without question for me. Maybe I'm a sucker for their marketing but I honestly believe that everything they do is done with the ultimate goal at heart - to make good beer available to as many as possible. I'd be shocked if their bars were anything other than great.

Anonymous said...

Nice to hear about good customer service.

I'm lucky enough to have a modern ale house nearby and the service sounds remarkably similar to BrewDog's bar. The staff are always happy to help and I almost always ask for a taste of a beer. All pubs should take this approach.

Partially agree that inconsistent quality is a problem with cask ale, but this is also linked to a couple of other factors - British people are often terrified of 'making as fuss' and won't take a pint back if it's clearly off. As a result, a pub often continues to serve crap beer.

But linked to this is poor service - I've taken pints back and have met rather defensive bar staff who I have to convince that the beer is off. Luckily, this isn't a problem in decent pubs, but it may put people off taking a pint back.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

Somehow this doesn't surprise me. My experiences with Mr Watt tell me he would pursue much this same exceedingly high standard of excellence in customer service, no matter who the customer may be.

I'm curious about one detail, however: Is this establishment directly owned and managed by BrewDog the brewery, or, as is frequently the case in the United States for either business or legal reasons, is there some kind of "franchise" or other licencing arrangement that means they serve BrewDog but are managed and run by another party? (American laws make it difficult to impossible for brewing companies to own the bars themselves, as with Britain's "tied houses.")

Primarily, I'm curious as to whether this standard of service and quality is indicative of "micro-managing" by BrewDog the company (James and Martin), or whether this is (as I suspect) a case of hiring experienced bar managers. Either way, more power to them!

The slightly cynical bloke in me (stop laughing) says, of course, that any and every brand new pub with an iota of brains will be on their absolute best behaviour for the initial period post opening--until, of course, such point where they become the next "in" place, with a three-hour wait to get in, and then, naturally, surly and rude staff inexplicably seem to be part of the whole cult mystique.....

Chris Mair said...

Matt,

I was in 4 times last week, none were weekend nights and they were a long way from 'rammed'. I was in last night and it was 'quiet', I was in Wednesday and it was 'lively', I was in Thursday and it was 'quiet'.

I will happily praise the service in BrewDog, it's always excellent. It is not unique to that bar or that company and I think you'll find many other people agree.

I'm not wrong, I just have a different opinion to you. Such are the BrewDog fanboys though, you clearly know far more than I do about it all

Spinko said...

Makes a change from the grumps you usually get serving you at Camra sponsored no-fizz festivals

Gary Gillman said...

The service question is a perennial one. It's good to hear that service is with a smile and otherwise effective at this new bar. But so much too depends on how you speak to staff. I find very little problem anywhere I go, just adjusting a bit how you speak can make a big difference. I remember once in Paris, somewhere on the right bank, dropping in to a kind of heavy metal bar (punk and metal was the music and the crowd, I had stopped in late the night before for a nightcap). I wanted to try a specific beer there, one of the Belgian or French Scotch ales. The bar had just opened, the barman looked tired, or maybe didn't want to bother with my French, he barely spoke to me initially. But as I spoke about beer and Paris - and the music on the speakers (Zeppelin parlent a tout le monde, n'est-ce-pas?) - he warmed up, and by the end wished me well and bid me to come back. Sure, maybe I shouldn't have to make an extra effort, but life isn't always in a straight line, and it ended up just as good as if a big smile had awaited me. Maybe I just look on the bright side.

Anyway it's good to hear this place in Scotland is on the ball, BrewDog is great and have done a lot for the British beer scene IMO.

Gary

Saga Of Nails said...

It is service that ultimately makes the difference between a good pub and a bad one, and what tempts people to come back to an establishment repeatedly, is mostly due to the reception that they find there.

Many middling pubs are very welcoming to their locals and not so much to strangers, especially if they start asking questions that are not usually asked.

If a place refuses to give testers of an ale, I assume that they have something to hide and avoid the place like the proverbial.

I would disagree with the assertion that allowing tasters of wine is very unusual. In my experience it is quite a common to do, and something that I would offer myself and encourage my staff to offer. Further to this, with some of the more unusual or rare world beers that I'll be stocking, I shall on occasions crack open a bottle and pour out ten or so taster glasses, to allow the less adventurous customers a chance to sample what they would otherwise be missing. This way, people can try out a rauchbier or gueuze or ten percent stout without any risk to their pocket. I think that all quality pubs and bars should do this once in a while.

Oogywawa said...

Been to Brewdog Edinburgh 4 times in the last month when on business in Edinburgh. Stats are 3 times exceptional service and once indifferent. 2 times rammed and 2 times busy but not without spaces to sit or stand.
Now I'm a fan of Brewdog - the beer but not the puerile antics of attention seekers. If they dropped the anti-establishment act they would realise you don't have to drop your principles to become part of the establishment and far more is achieved with civil but lively discourse than antagonistics mudslinging.
Brewdog are doing good things for the craft beer movement and should be at the GBBF - let's hope that they soften their stance and CAMRA look a bit more at the bigger picture in the war to win the hearts & minds of the drinkers of british brewed mainstream cr*p lager.

Ski Test said...

Sounds like the service I see in lots of American brewpubs. Finally someone over here 'gets it'.

Alastair said...

I've been to this pub a lot since it opened. I love the beers, especially 5AM Saint, and love the service. I don't feel like I'm in an ordinary pub here, it feels more like a secret,(a very badly kept secret as it is usually buzzing when I'm here) , meeting place for the young beer drinkers appreciation society. I bring a lot of friends here as its a good place to introduce them to real ale in a modern setting. - by the way Pete I enjoyed your video blog for July, the Guildford is also an excellent real ale pub with excellent, but more traditional serice.

Saga Of Nails said...

Alistair, considering that Brewdog do not sell any real ale at all in that Edinburgh bar, how does it introduce anybody to it ? Real Ale is a term that CAMRA invented in the 70's and as such have the right to maintain as narrow definition of the term as they like. As far as I understand, Real Ale is confined to cask ale only.

For me, the pity is that Brewdog make excellent cask ale when they can be bothered, but nowadays they seem to be rebelling against it with great energy. This is a pity for me, as I am not very enthusiastic about cold or carbonated drinks.

HardKnott Dave said...

Tasters really, really do work. Tasters given without the punter asking works 10 times better. You cannot beat a barman who has real enthusiasm for the beer being sold.

Sondre said...

This is an old thread, but I figured I'd chime in my 2 cents; I work with a women who trained to be a chef in Ireland, and they were tought what has always been my goal too, "hire for attitude, train for skill". Seriously, everyone can be tought how to work a bar, pour beer, be efficent, but it's much harder to train attitude and enthusiasm for what you're doing. there is way too many places that require you to have prior bar-experience, but working for your way up from bar-back to bartender to a good bartender won't automatically make you good, and if you aren't that into micro-brewery beer then it's hard to train someone to provide excellent customer service, knowledge and enthusiasm. (enthusiasm is infectious, and will for many justify a higher bill, if they feel they are getting excellence in their glass, which they must do if the barman is geniunely passionate about it).