The Taproom Experience

The ways to wow your guests

venn diagram depicting how to create a wow experience at a taproom through quality beer, engaging staff, and memorable atmosphere
Venn diagrams offer a simplistic view on what makes your hard work tangible. Image courtesy of

If you build it, they will come. This is a dated mentality and unless you are investing in creating a complete experience, then your neighbors will pass you by. Sorry, not sorry.

I’m not going to argue that beer isn’t important. I’m going to take an even stronger stance and say that unless you are making high-quality beer, then the rest is arguably irrelevant. Beer is in most situations how you first get guests through the door. But how do you keep them coming back?

Think back to elementary school when you first learned what a Venn diagram was. You know that chart that essentially taught you the similarities and differences between animals? These diagrams are fantastic visualizations to show the relationship between things. So, what’s the tie in between lions, tigers, reptiles, and your taproom? Your taproom experience represents an overlap of multiple components. Your goal isn’t to just be that majestic lion or ferocious tiger, but the coveted liger.

How do you become a liger and create the ultimate taproom experience? You maximize the three aspects that come together to create a memorable taproom experience. The ultimate taproom experience exists at the intersection of:

  • Quality beer
  • Memorable atmosphere
  • Engaging staff

Quality of Beer

As mentioned, without quality beer, the rest probably won’t matter. Beer is the anchor of our industry, and it is necessary to put out a well-made product. It’s the beer that initially gets most guests coming, but it is the other two aspects that keep them coming back.

Memorable Atmosphere

A memorable atmosphere consists of the basics that most people think of (music, art, décor); however, the little, often not considered aspects such as the temperature and lighting also fall under this heading. Unless you’re drinking in a brewery designed to look like a cave, then you probably don’t want to drink a stout while shivering. Additionally, with very few exceptions, it’s probably a good idea to have everything lit in a decent manner. Let the fixtures also speak to your ambiance (and I’m not talking just throwing up the same Edison lights that are part of the Start-A-Brewery erector set). Use each little aspect of your space to tell some part of your story and to help you stand out.

A crucial part of your atmosphere is the cleanliness. The cleanliness, beginning with the outside of your taproom, to the deepest darkest (hopefully not too dark) corner reflects the level of attention you have for detail. The overused saying of “you can judge a restaurant by how clean their bathroom is” stands true. If your taproom’s atmosphere does not positively contribute to the bigger picture, a vital piece of the experience is missing.

Think of the time you walked into a new taproom for the first time and had no idea where to order. There was poor signage, confusion, and the whole ordering experience was awkward. Yup, that’s part of the atmosphere, too. Whether or not you choose to have TVs? These are all intentional considerations that impact how guests perceive your atmosphere. Dial in who you are and let the atmosphere radiate your brand.

The atmosphere you create will also help determine your ideal audience. 

The atmosphere you create will also help determine your ideal audience. While the previous mentioned touches contribute to the experience while at your brewery, consider the policies you may have in place that either allow or restrict certain guests. And this brings us to two of the most “controversial” debates in beer: Whether to allow dogs and children?

Ask yourself, who is your ideal audience? Is your space prepared to offer the necessary accommodations for these additional four-legged friends or small children? If you regularly partner with your local animal shelter, then taking a strong stance on allowing animals could be an important part of your brand, and thus you can be known as a pet-friendly taproom. You even have the opportunity to use this in your marketing and to make it a positive and expected characteristic of your atmosphere.

On the children front, are you proactively encouraging, discouraging, or taking a neutral stance? Many taprooms stay in the middle and provide a welcoming atmosphere to all, no matter their age, and the experience is safe to accommodate. However, if you aim to market yourself as a kid-friendly taproom, and play into this, how are you building this into the experience? Perhaps a playground in your beer garden? A large variety of games to capture the attention of toddlers to teenagers? Knowing who you are, marketing to it, and providing this demographic a strong taproom experience can help define your audience.

Engaging Staff

My favorite, and arguably, the most important circle on the Venn diagram of taproom experience is you and your staff. Your staff can take the taproom experience to the next level by building a relationship with each guest. You can successfully do this through education and engagement. 

When you’re interacting with a guest, they are at that very moment all that matters. It should be your number one goal to craft the perfect experience for them. The interaction component begins the second a guest walks into your taproom. The initial greeting is your chance to make a positive first impression. There is a big difference between being warmly greeted and that guest having to wait in line for 15 minutes to order a pint. In both situations, you can successfully engage, just in different manners. In the busy scenario, acknowledging guests in line by letting them know you will be with them shortly goes a long way versus them feeling ignored. This little touchpoint matters.

A sincere “thank you” is the final touch. A guest could have an enjoyable experience, but if it concludes without them feeling appreciated then they may leave with a sour taste. The goodbye is your last shot to leave that guest with a positive memory. Everything in between is your chance to build a meaningful relationship.

Along this journey take the time to introduce them to you and your brewery, understand their needs, help them find the best selections for their tastes, let them ask questions, ask them questions back, check back in a timely manner, encourage them to have another, offer beer to go, give them reasons to come back, and invest yourself in helping create a memory.

Craft beer is all about education. Engagement is your middle name and you are in the relationships business. You and your taproom staff are storytellers on a mission to share the gospel of your brand and build an army of drinkers passionate about what you have created. Once again, your creation is not just your beer, but everything your brand represents. The ultimate experience exists at the interaction of delicious beer, a memorable atmosphere, and engaging staff.

When you successfully WOW the guest, they are not just going to leave your taproom talking about how good the beer was, they’re going to say “[your name here] was amazing! I can’t wait to see them again.”

We have all had the experience of visiting a brewery where the beer may be quite delicious, but the lack of engagement or potentially negative interactions you have with the taproom staff discourage you from returning. Next time you decide to go out, the odds are you will not be returning. You don’t want to be this brewery.

Recently, I visited a brewery known for the haziest of hazies and a kitchen sink’s worth of unique ingredients. Upon walking in it was initially confusing where to order. The wall menu consisted of a bunch of random beer names. No style or any additional descriptors. When it was my turn at the ordering counter, the two staff members stared at me, waiting for me to speak. I quickly ordered two half pours of beers I had vaguely heard of.

The server handed me the two beers and I asked which was which. They were unable to tell me. One of those beers could have been the best beer I’ve ever had, and they did not provide me the proper tools to order it again.

On the flipside, my family and I visited a farm brewery in the middle of nowhere, Virginia. We were quickly greeted, learned that the owner built the brewery himself, and had wonderful conversations with the guests sitting next to us at the bar. The staff asked me what type of beers I enjoy, offered samples, recommended a flight, and made sure I was happy with my selections. Ask me about the beers and I can’t remember. Do I plan to visit again? Absolutely, the next time I’m in the area. Did I mention there was a tree in the middle of the taproom? 

Brewery guests do not just desire delicious beer, but they are also craving an experience. Current and future owners have the responsibility to themselves and their guests to provide this. The beer industry stays fascinating because of innovation’s role. Failure to stay in touch with the market’s desires and you will get left behind. Study trends, listen to your guests, and continually evolve and be rewarded with success from taking the time to create the experience your guests, and staff, desire.

Often, we hear terms like “third place” and “community gathering spaces.” A venue doesn’t become a third space because they simply brew tasty beer or have a great vibe but terrible staff. An establishment gains the reputation as a community gathering space by hitting all the checkboxes. They’re putting out a top-notch product, they’re nailing the memorable atmosphere part, and their staff isn’t just slinging drinks, but a vital part of the big picture. This is the WOW experience. 

Crafting the most successful taproom experience requires you to never stop improving and challenging yourself to blow every guest’s mind. 

Issue: May-June 2023