Our House is a Very, Very Fine House

By: Tom Dargen, Director of Brewing Operations, Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurants/CraftWorks Restaurants and Breweries Inc.

For as long as there have been restaurants—probably the worlds’ second oldest profession—there has been occasional conflict between the “back of the house” where the food is prepared, and the “front of the house” where it is served. When you add a brewery to the mix, let’s call it the “sides of the house,” you often end up with a house even more divided, and that cannot stand.

This discord is usually the result of a failure to communicate effectively on the part of the brewer and the balance of the management and hourly staff. Here are some very simple solutions to help with this age-old conundrum.

The Dreaded Manager Meeting

A weekly manager meeting doesn’t have to be a weekly root canal. Remember, nothing opens up a group and gets them talking like a little beverage of moderation (and you just happen to have a brewery full). Having beer to sample not only ensures the managers know what is new, it also reinforces essential beer knowledge, making them better promoters and potential problems solvers.

There should be discussion about brewery profit and loss issues, including sales and yields by style, augmented by feedback from staff and guests. Expenses should be covered such as cost of goods, repair and maintenance and any other major purchases that are on the horizon.

Finally, any upcoming events or weather anomalies that may affect sales and inventory like beer dinners, tapping parties, banquets, conventions, festivals, snowstorms or other acts of God should be covered; especially if it involves the brewer preparing kegs and pouring beer.

The Painful Pre-Shift

Before every shift in the restaurant, all the servers, bartenders and key kitchen personnel should gather to review daily specials, 86’d items, large parties, etc. There is no reason it needs to be a drag! This is the optimal opportunity to communicate with the hourly staff who serve as the front line and will make or break a brewpub.

When they are hired, they typically go through a training program that probably feels like getting hit in the face with a fire hose. You have a vast amount of vitally important information that they need to learn in a fairly finite amount of time. Unfortunately, the concept of diminishing returns comes mightily into play, like trying to pour a whole pitcher into a pint glass; most of it just spills over the sides and down your pants.

Take the time in a shift meeting to dole out petite pearls of wisdom. Discuss the seasonal beers on tap and those coming soon; let them try them paired with contrasting and complimenting dishes while the brewer and chef explain how to describe the flavors in tantalizing vernacular. Keep it short and simple though, just a few sentences.

Back up their initial blast of training with snippets about various beer styles and their origins, malts, hops, yeasts and how they combine in a variety of wonderful ways. Give them a story to tell at the table and hammer home that telling those stories not only sells more beer, but it makes it rain more money on them.

Discuss the importance of beer temperature, proper beer clean glasses, having a head on the beer, etc.

The Big Bored

Because the brewer tends to be a morning person, though seldom by choice, and servers and bartenders are completely nocturnal, it is possible their two paths rarely cross. This is why it is good to have a bulletin (shift board) where the information from the daily shift meetings can be posted. Whether it a cork board where print outs are posted, or a white/chalk board, there should be a section for what is going on in the brewery. The format is that of a newsletter that usually includes information on rotating beers, events, festivals and pairings for daily food specials.

The front of the house staff should understand the more they know the more they sell. They rely on the back and sides of the house to provide them with that knowledge, otherwise no one makes any money and the house divided collapses on itself.

Tom Dargen started bussing tables at the venerable Wynkoop Brewing Company while finishing his degree in History at the University of Colorado at Denver back in 1988. Within a year he was running the brewery and making all manner of ales, lagers, ciders, and meads under the direction of Russell Schehrer, the namesake of the Brewers Association’s annual award for innovation. Tom flew the Koop in 2000 to work for Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurants where he is currently the Director of Brewing Operations overseeing 34 restaurant brewers and breweries.