How Can Servers Know The Beers for All Those Events at The Pint Room?

How Can Servers Know The Beers for All Those Events at The Pint Room?

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

April and May are busy times for the servers at The Pint Room in Carmel (110 W. Main St.). Besides having 124 draft lines to manage and understand everyday, there are more than half a dozen special events coming up that will demand that they learn even more beers. The biggest event coming up in the near future is the Rhinegeist Brewery’s 2nd Indiana anniversary party on May 16. No fewer than 23 lines will be dedicated to Rhinegeist beer that evening from 6-11pm. You will know some of the beers, but The Pint Room’s reputation will guarantee that some very select beers will be on tap as well.

Talking about a May 16 event is jumping the gun a bit, with the other great events coming before that. The fun starts on the 18th of April with the release party for The Waldos’ Special Ale from Lagunitas. Indianapolis friend Junior Decaudin is brewing for Lagunitas in Chicago, so that’s just a second reason to grab some of this great beer. The evening is followed quickly by a Death & Taxes Tap Takeover just before the festival in Bargersville.

image credit: Rhinegeist Brewery

The tap take over is on April 25th, with eight taps of Taxman Brewing beer and a raffle for two tickets to Death & Taxes Day. Just into May, look for the Indiana release of another great regional/national brewery – 21st Amendment. Favorites from this California brewery will be on tap, but rarer beers will make the cut as well. This event is followed rapidly by a Sun King Tap Takeover in May 9th and a Modern Time tap feature on May 14 as they come into the state for Dark Lord Day (Ben, we expect to see you there).

Finally, Blake’s Cider from Armada, Michigan will have a tap feature at The Pint Room on May 23rd. If you combine all those special beverages with the recent additions of Cigar City and Toppling Goliath to Indiana craft beer menus, you can see that there’s a lot of new beers flowing at The Pint Room in the next month and a half.

Being the beer geek that I am, my question runs a bit sideways from the obvious issue of how do I drink all that beer. I’m thinking…. how does The Pint Room ensure that their servers (both on bar side and restaurant side) are knowledgeable about the beers? How can they possibly give a patron the information or comparisons that will help them pick a beer they will like and have a good experience? By hiring good people and training them well.

Hire well: The Pint Room’s General Manager, Andreya Kennerk, and Bar Manager/beer buyer, David Gross, take the time and effort to hire good beer people. Many of the people they bring on to sling beer have been at it longer than Dave or Andreya have been in beer, and certainly several of the servers now working the bar and restaurant floor have worked for The Pint Room longer than either Andreya or Dave have been there. They tend to hire people that already have a passion for craft beer and experience talking to patrons about it, and when you get good people, it pays to treat them well, allow them to continue to learn, and give them reasons to stay.

Part of server training is how to properly serve a beer, not just learning what the beers are. image credit: Tales of Froth

Knowledge is something you can test, enthusiasm is something you can see, but it’s also a matter of finding people who understand the situation and intuit how much information a patron is wanting about a beer or a style. Knowledge is gained over time from without while enthusiasm is something gained over time from within, but intuition about how to talk to patrons is God given. You can get better at it over time, but you’ll never be really good unless you can read people, and that’s hard to learn.

Andreya and David know where to look for good people, can feel the enthusiasm they bring, and understand that helping patrons isn’t all about knowledge about food or beer. In all, being a good hirer is important for the overall success of the beer talking game.

Start Each Server Off on the Right Foot: Each new hire is presented with The Pint Room’s Beer Style Guide when they are hired. They should have the curiosity to dive into this and all of them do this very thing. There’s no way that this can tell everyone everything they would need to know to answer beer geek kinds of questions, but then again, very few people are beer geeks.

What the style guide does do is give people who are new to craft beer a good base, and give people who have been in craft beer somewhere else an idea of the kinds of information that The Pint Room believes to be important. It’s a way to spark questions and interacting with the rest of the staff about the style guide helps to build a team and enthusiasm. Plus, they have quizzes about styles about the words that are good to describe flavors, aromas and bodies.

Knowing good beers for food is harder for servers who are under 21. It takes good training and teamwork. image credit: Drink Up Columbus

For under-21 servers on the restaurant side, the training is more toward the food, but the beer isn’t ignored. Andreya stated that she loves seeing how the bar servers and 21+ servers take the younger and less experienced servers under their wing. They realize that these servers haven’t tried most of these beers (theoretically), so they use their words to help paint pictures of the beers so that the younger ones can still talk the beer.

The results of this kind of training are several. One, it increases the patron experience. When a server can answer questions, make food/beer pairings, knows what is on the draft lines at all times, and can even point out something the patron might have overlooked, it enhances the experience that the customer has. Second, they can take the experience that the customer is having and raise it another level by making comparisons between beers or helping them to move from something they didn’t like to something they might. Third, and perhaps most incentivizing – it helps tips.

Make Sure Training Never Ends: David said that it is important that talking beers and increasing the knowledge of the staff be an ongoing process. Few industries are as innovative on a short-term scale as is craft beer. Things are changing all the time, new hops, new styles, and certainly new beers. Not every bit of new knowledge can be conveyed (or should be), but it’s nice to be able to talk beer with those customers that wish to.

This on-the-fly training is most evident when new beers come on the line. David takes the time to taste beers with the servers, but that isn’t always necessary. In most cases the servers are going to do this on their own anyway, but David is there to help out when needed. In truth, everyone looks to each other to help out with learning about new beers, distribution rep.s, brewery rep.s, brewers, other servers, management – they all work together so that the beer can be presented in the best light.

Sampling the beers and talking about them is important for servers. image credit: Keweenaw Co-Op

Some breweries and distributors are very good about leaving tasting notes for new beers. Andreya pointed to Bier Brewery and Taxman as being very conscientious about that. It help the servers to present and talk the beer as the brewery would like, and that sells more beer. In turn the breweries appreciate the dedication of the staff and are likely to get The Pint Room rare stuff when they want/need it.

For events, the training needs to be even faster. David likes to put on beers a few at a time for a large events, because taking half full kegs off and putting them back on is bad for the beer. But over a short period of time he will consolidate the lines for the events until he has everything on. This means that there could be 20-23 lines of new beers for some events and even more lines for huge events.

How can you help servers know the beers when so many are coming on in a short period of time? They will do some tastings and the notes will be good, but mostly they just talk it through as much as they can as they go. For example, if a patron asks a certain question, they will work it through and then communicate the answer to all servers so that if it comes up again, they have it down.

But training can be an everyday thing as well. Making sure servers know how to handle situations when a customer is unhappy with a beer or thinks there was a mistake, helping them pair foods with beers, being able to find a beer when a patron says they like Blue Moon; the point is to always be working to maximize the customer experience.

Conclusion: I’d like to say that this happens everywhere, but it doesn’t. Most places make a legitimate effort to train personnel, but with lines changing all the time and server turnover happening regularly (less these days with such low unemployment), it isn’t always achieved. When someone orders the wee heavy and a server asks you which number it is, it’s obvious that something has been missed somewhere. Hopefully this is just training in progress, so Walter and I never let it affect our experience or our tip. In the end, it’s just nice to see that bars and breweries are working to help the patron experience through their service. After all, they aren’t in the beer business, they’re in the people business, they just happen to sell beer.


banner image credit: Current of Carmel

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