Special Events: Get creative to fill voids

You didn’t choose to be a nanobrewery to live up to brewing industry norms. You’re quirky, you’re unique, and you may not play by the rules. Sure, the affordability may have been a factor in your business decision; however, embrace the nano’s ability to act quickly and experiment as a strategy to differentiate yourself. Know who you are and rock it shamelessly. With 9,000+ breweries operating in the U.S. alone, it is vital to not only make high-quality beer, but to also create an overall experience that leaves your guests craving more.

You are small on purpose and that comes with a story to tell. Craft beer is about engagement, education, and expanding your audience. The value of your brewery lies much deeper than just the beer you are producing. A great part of your value is in the space you occupy — no matter the size. Taprooms are social gathering places where every minute left empty can reduce your bottom line. You’ve got the space and you need to maximize its potential. As a current or future brewery owner or manager, create a plan to entertain and impress your guests with a variety of events and promotions.

One way to fill seats on slow nights is to create an event to draw folks through your door. Photo courtesy of Lady Justice Brewing Co.

There is no playbook to follow, but as an entrepreneur your mindset should be that you will forever be striving to find repeatable strategies that can make your life easier and more successful. You and your team best know your space and your audience. It is my hope that the concepts discussed here can inspire you to never stop crafting innovative and memorable experiences for your customers.

As you strive to find what works best at your brewery, you will without a doubt fail. No one continually bowls strikes, and you will have your share of winners and losers. However, in figuring out what events and promotions work best for you, always stay true to who you are. How you use your space and the events you host must reflect the ethos of your brand.

When successfully executed, events are a fantastic tool to grow your brand. We define an “event” as any planned social occasion that happens at your taproom. This could be anything from trivia to live music to a seasonal craft fair to a homebrew club get-together to a wedding. It is something outside the scope of your normal operation. Before your brewery becomes a nano-event mecca, you must create the desire for groups and parties to hold events at your space. Just as you aim to stand out by the beer you produce, differentiate in the experience you create.

Because letters are fun, we are going to use the word “NANO” as an acronym to help you stay on track when planning events.

N – Need
A – Authenticity
N – Numbers
O – Originality

Let’s begin with need (N). When you begin to brainstorm what events you may host, first ask yourself, “Is there a need?” Have your guests been requesting a trivia night based on some obscure ‘80s sci-fi show? Do you frequently have patrons wishing there was a small music venue in your area that featured acoustic acts? Would it be a good idea to host a seasonal food and beer pairing? A simple way to determine the need is to ask your guests. You and your staff should have a strong pulse on your guests’ preferences. Take the time to find out what they’d like. The better you understand your audience, the more they’ll spend, and the sooner they’ll return. People like to spend money with those they like. Simple, right?

Following that same train of thought, those guests will support the events that they are interested in. Outside of asking, also use other channels to understand your audience’s needs. Utilize your social media to not only engage daily but learn. Asking the audience (we’re throwing back to you, Who Wants to be a Millionaire?) is market research 101. Determine if there’s a demand, how large that demand may be, and then if the idea at hand is feasible in your taproom. This will help brainstorm potential concepts to consider. So axe throwing may be the exception (we’ll get to outliers and originality at the letter “O”). The best ideas are often the most basic and expected, but along the discovery process, you may also uncover unexpected concepts ready to be capitalized upon.

With 9,000+ breweries operating in the U.S. alone, it is vital to not only make high-quality beer, but to also create an overall experience that leaves your guests craving more.

As you continue planning, consider whether your event will only appeal to a narrow demographic, or will it appeal to the masses? This decision should be cautiously made. To my knowledge, Dungeons and Dragons players aren’t your average brewery goer, thus an exceptionally niche event should be tested on a slower day rather than the marquee event of the season. On the other hand, if considering a weekly trivia night, a themed event based on your favorite TV program as a kid may not draw your desired audiences, but perhaps a regular, more generalized program will. When you first launched your brewery, you mapped out your target demographic. Perhaps this has evolved over time. In the current state of the industry, it should be your goal to not limit your audience and to build relationships around community, conversation, and craft beer while maintaining your integrity.

Authenticity (A) would have been a better first letter to begin with, unfortunately I can’t change the spelling of nano. Even more important than the need for a particular event, it is vital for you to stay true to your brand. Is hosting an intimate, politically charged gathering at your small, sports-themed taproom going to gel with your clientele? Probably not. Is partnering with the SPCA on a Saturday rescue event going to go over well? It just might if you’re highly engaged with the local animal lover community.

Don’t simply host an event because. I repeat, do not just let any event take place in your taproom. Everything that happens in your taproom reflects your core values. Does your brewery have a mission statement? If not, sit down right now and begin the process. This doesn’t have to happen in one sitting but start writing down the words that reflect what you aim to be. This may end up forming a sentence or may ultimately end up as a few strong words that represent what you stand for. Having a mission statement isn’t something that just corporate, Cheesecake Factory-like breweries do. Having a mission statement is a key strategy to understand who you are and how to stay true to your brewery’s core values and identity.

This mission statement should carry over to every decision that happens at your brewery. Sure, you run a business, but selling yourself to the devil and aligning yourself with ideas and partners that do not line up with your values can ultimately be detrimental.

The numbers (N) are what really matter. You must ask yourself if hosting a specific event is a smart financial decision. Before we discuss the actual event, let’s look at the potential consequences. Should you stray from routine? If your taproom is a local watering hole with a captive audience of regulars, you will want to consider whether the financial gain from hosting a less inclusive or private event outweighs the possibility of upsetting your regular guests. It is much easier to host a private event on off days, as opposed to shutting down the brewery on Saturday for a wedding. However, a brewery is a business and the decision that amounts in the most overall good is the decision that should be made.

You’re not Uber or AirBNB, making money is a necessary goal for the long-term success of a nanobrewery. Use the below formula when considering the decision to host, or continue hosting, a special event.

Event Value = Rental Fee + Projected Beer Sales + Projected Food Sales + Goodwill of Guests – Lost Regular Sales – Added Operational Costs

Goodwill of guests refers to how much fun those in attendance have and how that enjoyment will transfer to future loyalty. This is basically impossible to quantify but in the marketing world acquisition and lifetime value of customers is something businesses look at and this sits in that realm. The future value of holding your local kickball team’s championship celebration may hold a tad more future sales value than a presentation by the local university on climate change (which could be equally as important to craft beer). Find the events that work best for your space. The more fun guests have at your events, the more likely they will return sooner and recommend your taproom to their friends and family. Use the above formula as a guide.

If considering private events, dive deep into all potential costs. How much staff will it take to accommodate? Any other special requirements other than just offering your space? Be sure to dictate what’s included in the rental. Consider how much business you would do on that specific non-event day and look at the pros and cons of holding a special event.

If you do choose to host private events, be sure to have information on your website and at your brewery to direct any interested party to the proper person to contact. Once again, do not upset your regulars. Whether you are hosting a public or private event, it is important to make potential patrons aware on both social media and at the brewery. Advertise in advance so that a guest does not show up surprised. That Tuesday regular may not stay a regular if they show up to a sign reading “Taproom closed for a private party.” Do your best to spread the word.

Hosting events that make financial sense is a must. While it may take time for some events to hit their potential, have conversations internally to discuss how much effort can be placed on a specific campaign before it is considered worth being continued or cancelled. Additionally, consider the value each event may offer. For example, a karaoke night at your brewery may only bring a crowd of 20, but those 20 guests may spend twice as much as your average guest.

Timing also plays into the decision. Paying for live entertainment on a Saturday may be nice for your regular weekend crowd, but if it’s not showing an added value (i.e. higher tabs, more guests), it may be worth reconsidering. On the other hand, putting that same live entertainment on a historically slow Thursday evening may convince your Thursday night crowd to hang out even longer and bring a few more friends the next week. Ultimately, it is your goal to build a strong connection with your community through activities that deepen the brewery-guest relationship. When you achieve this, it will benefit all parties involved.

The “O” stands for originality. Forget what I said about need for a moment. Originality is your chance to do something no one else in your area is doing. While a large portion of the events you host will be based on need, there is also opportunity to think outside the box. This is your opportunity to innovate. This is your chance to forget whether or not there’s a need and throw a dart (or axe) at the wall blindfolded and see if it sticks. Of course, this must be a well-thought-out plan. You can’t simply decide to host an event and expect the, “if you build it, they will come,” results.

The “O” is why you opened a nanobrewery. This is where your creativity shines. Are your Tuesday’s slow? Try that wacky idea you’ve considered. Worst case, you have that regular old slow Tuesday and you give up after a few tries. Best case? Your stab at hosting a Dungeons and Dragons league takes off and now you have a potentially new audience and revenue stream. It is your responsibility to try these non-traditional ideas that match the feel of your taproom. Some will fail miserably, some will ignite a fire in your guests that they didn’t know they needed, but all will be learning experiences.

It was not my aim to give you a list of tried-and-true events to host. It is my goal to challenge you to discover what works best in your market. The best part of our industry is that every taproom represents a unique experience.
Let’s end with a checklist to help you find the events that may work best in your taproom. Ask yourself:

  • (N) Have my guests been asking for this? (The answer is often, but not always, “yes”)
  • (A) Does the potential event align with our core values? (The answer must always be “yes”)
  • (N) Is the idea financially viable? (Most commonly, “yes”)
  • (O) Will it help me stand out? (Should be a strong “yes”)

If you get through these four questions with four, mostly “yes” replies, I wish you the best of luck and hope to be there to experience it.

Issue: January-February 2022