Sunday, December 2, 2012

How to run a perfect beer event

Inspired by Polly Watts' and all of the Avenue Pub staff's work this past weekend.

1) Have a specific plan and communicate it clearly and frequently. The Avenue Pub, upon getting formal notification that Cantillon had chosen it as one of a handful of beer bars in the world for its 2012 Zwanze beer release, immediately sprang into action. Emails went out to the email list, the Facebook event was set up, all with a good general plan of what to expect - the event and its logistics on Saturday, of course, but also what was happening the week leading up to the main event.

2) Explain the system and be consistent. Watts worked hard on getting the Zwanze ticketing system in place last year- she wanted to be able to serve the great demand while making sure her staff wasn't overwhelmed, that customers weren't frustrated, and that the system would be difficult to "game" or exploit. Instead of setting something up so that people would be stressed out about getting in line and being uncomfortable, she was able to figure out a way to separate the hordes of descending beer geeks into more manageable "boarding pass" groups, which were physical cards of different colors: the first group was light green, the second group was yellow, etc. You went to Polly after buying your beer and settling in to wait and drink and have a nice time, and she would give you a color-coded boarding pass that would determine the order of people to get upstairs to buy their tickets and then, later, to get pours of the actual Zwanze 2012 release.

3) Keep things loose - but organized. So this I think is the art to a well executed event. How do you straddle the line between making sure the system is respected and becoming a tyrannical buzz kill? I think the Avenue Pub succeeded because the staff were all patient, pleasant, but firm on what was permitted and when. Also, the thoughtful system in place created an atmosphere where the customers knew that they didn't need to push and shove to get to the good stuff. Yes, you were rewarded for getting to the Pub early - but you weren't punished for showing up later, if that makes any sense. (Another small but important detail is that the Pub waited an hour after all ticketed people got their pour of Zwanze to release the rest to purchase.)

4) KISS. Make things simple enough so that even alcohol-impaired people can follow instructions. I particularly admired the note on the beer menus reminding people that these beers were pretty spendy, and recommending some less expensive beers to balance out your tab so you don't yell drunkenly at the staff that this tab is OUTRAGEOUS! (I did gulp at our tab though, true story. But I had more than fair warning!)

5) Understand your audience. I think that events like Zwanze might be a little easier to herd customers through, given the self selecting nature of the attendees. Most folks who would make it a point to get to a Zwanze tapping 3, 4, or more hours in advance hopefully have an understanding of what makes this special and challenging, and are more or less pretty chill. I could be wrong about that, though- I wasn't on staff! I've been to two Zwanze events at the Pub now, as well as  the Swedish beer extravaganza, which was just as well organized, though I don't think they did the "boarding pass" system for that- but certain beer geek "catnip" beers (like Stormskaporter) were held back and distributed fairly so everyone got a chance to try. Watts truly tries to see things from everyone's perspectives - customers (both beer nerds and less-nerdly), staff, distributors, and business owner - and creates an environment to please them all.

6) Stay calm in a crisis. Apparently the tap system both upstairs and downstairs got messed up that morning (which, talk about terrible timing!) but THE EVENT STILL WENT OFF SMOOTHLY. Many thanks to Crescent Crown, who sent out folks to repair it, as well as the staff for handling it all with aplomb. According to Polly, "our main co2 line running upstairs melted and blew up before the tapping. Something that has never happened before. Thank god for my staff who figured it out before someone got hurt and for CC who fixed it. The guy from CC that came in was on vacation. That's dedication."

Now that's how you run a perfect beer event.

Cheers!
photograph courtesy of Amy Murphy

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