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R&IEditorial Archives2003March 1 — Beverages

Playing Taps
Niche marketing, customer education raise beer awareness and increase sales

When planning beer promotions, operators should play to their market segment, advises Paul Leongas, owner of The Curragh, a 4-year-old Irish pub and restaurant in Schaumburg, Ill. With overall annual sales of $2.7 million, The Curraghs Celtic-themed brew promotions earn the operation a loyal customer base while attracting new faces.

Were a destination pub serving a variety of beers and ales, Irish food and hospitality, Leongas explains. Beverage promotions keep customers interested, help the bottom line and generate new business.

The Curragh, named after a racecourse in County Kildare, Ireland, offers two types of beer events: price-oriented specials and supplier-organized promos. A popular event, Pull Your Own Pint Night, is held several times a year, usually on a slow night such as Sunday, Monday or Tuesday. In addition to dropping pint prices from $4.75 to $3.75, bartenders demonstrate the proper way to draw Irish stouts and ales to interested customers. The promotion increases beer sales by 10% to 15%, Leongas says.

The Curragh also features food promos that team beers with traditional fare such as Irish stew, fish and chips and shepherds pie. Such tie-ins can add 5% to 10% to food and beer revenues.

Promotions organized with vendors offer distinct advantages, says Leongas. Any radio or print advertising and giveaways are handled at the suppliers expense, he explains. During tough economic times, support from vendors helps offset costs and boosts volume. And while such promotions dont always improve the bottom line, Leongas says the rise in traffic usually bumps up overall beer sales 10% to 15%.

When suppliers offer a single-brand promotionwith prices of pints or bottles reduced an average of one dollarsales jump about 12%. And vendor specials that target women have increased The Curraghs total food and beverage sales by as much as 30%.

Beer events also help new operations break into the local scene. Chicagos Jake Melnicks Corner Tap, opened last fall, plans to showcase its menu and downtown location with a Saturday appetizer buffet and Just Brew It promotion featuring beers ranging from pale ales to stouts, says Gina Johnson of Chicago-based parent Levy Restaurants. Just Brew It offers beer flights for adults as well as root beers for kids. The goal is to focus attention on the restaurant, and how our menu items pair with our beers, she adds.

Beer sales continue to grow across most categories, with overall 2001 consumption up 0.6% to 2.8 billion 2.25-gallon cases, according to Norwalk, Conn.-based Adams Beverage Group, an industry research firm. Sales of imports climbed 8.8%, with craft and specialty beers up 9.6% and light versions climbing 2.9%.

Each category presents an opportunity for growth, according to Dave Alexander, owner of The Brickskeller Dining House & Down-Home Saloon in Washington, D.C., an operation listed in Guinness World Records as having the greatest variety of beers (1,072 brands) at any one time.

You have to teach customers, he says. People change their beer tastes with a gentle nudge, not a push. He suggests that operators steer light-beer drinkers to crisp German lagers or Czech Pilsners, for example.

Alexander hosts promotions that further beer education, such as seminars, tutored tastings and food pairings, preferring them to one-off events that only push sales.

Educating customers about beer positions the operator as a resource and builds trust, he explains. The rush of business from a sales-driven event usually falls off. Building beer business is a slow process that yields dividends.

In a recent menu overhaul at Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery, food and the concepts handcrafted beers get equal billing. The 30-unit chain, now 12 years old, is responding to changing customer demands, says Marilyn Davenport, director of marketing for Louisville, Colo.-based Rock Bottom. Were maturing along with our customers. Theyre older and want great food with their beers.

The company sticks to a few tried promotions such as its beer tour customer-loyalty card and an annual three-week event in March that highlights local fire departments and fire-laced recipes, many from firehouse cooks. The event generates community awareness, donations and media attention. It also increases beer sales by 2% to 3%, Davenport adds.

Freebies and exclusives drive promotions at Iron Hill Brewery & Restaurant, says Kevin Finn, director of marketing. The four-unit concept based in Wilmington, Del., offers a Brewers Reserve dinner six times a year at each of the restaurants. Breweries showcase a small batch of vintage beer while Iron Hills chefs prepare menus that complement the brews. The events promote our reputation for unusual beers and innovative food, he says.

Exclusivity is the appeal of the concepts Mug Club. To join, customers buy a handcrafted, numbered mug for $25; only 150 are available per restaurant. Membership entitles the owner to a $75 gift certificate on their birthday and free appetizers every two months. While memberships sell out fast, the number of Mug Clubbers who use the discounts averages 20%, Finn says.

Another happening, a monthly Tasting Night, entitles the first 50 guests to a free pint. Customers stand in line to get in, says Finn. And well sell three times the amount of beer that night."

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