Phil Strongman, operational director at London-based group Pubs of Distinction, told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser: “It’s great that there is so much more choice but it’s a lot more challenging. I might have 30 or 40 brewers calling up on a Monday asking if we want to stock their beer.”
“You’ve got to look at brewers carefully and consider the operational side. Who is going to deliver on time and pick up their empties, who is going to be chaotic and who is going to be good to deal with?
“A lot of people don’t realise that if you’re changing products a lot you’re going to need good people in the cellars and that’s a challenge.”
Heath Ball, head of pubs at Sussex-based brewery and pub company Dark Star, agrees that a good beer offer is as much about practicality
as it is passion.
“I wish I’d known when I first started that the condition and consistency of the product is as important as the flavour. You need to identify brewers that not only brew great beer, but brew consistent beer and have beer delivered in a condition that will convert to a great product
at the pumps.”
or Ball, remaining competitive means a commitment to spending a significant amount of time and manpower keeping on top of the market.
“We spend a lot of time researching new breweries or beers to make sure we bring our customers the very best. This is a fast-moving market meaning a daily commitment to quality and managing your range — not changing the odd beer now and again.”
He also urges operators to think carefully about which beers will work best at individual sites. “If a site is more remote or has a fair share of drivers, we’ll keep an eye on ABV to ensure the list is accessible, but at the same time, we’ll up our game on the takeaway beer available.”
With new breweries springing up like mushrooms, it can be easy to be seduced by whatever is newest and shiniest on the market. Craft Beer Co founder and managing director Martin Hayes argues that ‘new’ doesn’t always mean good.
“Don’t allow yourself to be conned into stocking a beer that is simply new rather than being a genuine hand-crafted and exceptionally good beer,” he said.
Increasing competition has yet to faze Hayes, who added that although many pubs are upping their beer ranges, there is still space for top-notch multiple-site operators to differentiate themselves on service.
“Competition is a wonderful thing. We’ve used the added pressure to spur us on and strive to remain number one when it comes to the range of beers, but also the service that goes with it. Let’s face it, there is little point having world-class beers with third-world service standards.”
Craft Beer Co, Pubs of Distinction and Dark Star all say that getting the right people behind the bar is vital to keep customers coming back to their businesses — rather than their rivals.
At Pubs of Distinction sites, newer team members are buddied up with a more experienced member of staff who can fill in any gaps in their knowledge, as well as imparting a love for the product. But Strongman stresses that even staff members who might only be looking for stopgap work must buy into the business’s beer philosophy, however brief their stint at the company is.
Hayes adds that while it may be difficult to get everyone up to a high standard, having at least some bar staff with a real interest in beer will carry weaker members of the team.
“We have to accept that not all staff will be as knowledgeable as we’d ideally like them to be, so its about ensuring you achieve a basic knowledge on the understanding that you know a percentage will either be in love with craft beer or they will fall in love with it.”
Draft House owner Charlie McVeigh argues that businesses stocking as many beers for the sake of it are setting themselves up for failure. Staying out of the craft beer ‘arms race’ has helped drive success at his seven-strong group, he said.
“We’re not the most extreme and it’s not our aim to have the most beers or the most obscure — we stock Camden Pale Ale, which is quite a mainstream beer in the UK. Our aim really is to have great hospitality as much as great beer, and to have lots of interesting beers with a story to tell.
“Even though we’re known for having fantastic beer, you can’t build a long-standing business purely on an enormous beer offer. It’s not sustainable — all the other elements need to be great as well.”