Pricing and Profitability
The object of the festival is to drive profitable custom through your doors so you need to give careful consideration to your profit margins as these may suffer due to the varying prices of the different beers. (If you go down the route of bright beer then you will be charged a premium on the normal cost; to allow the work of settling and decanting finished beer by the supplier).
You should avoid discounting your sales prices too much, you may want to sell these later in the year (for a higher price) and customers have long memories about the price they’ve paid for a pint.
You might consider a special across the board festival price irrespective of cost or ABV% – especially if you want to sell advance tickets entitling holders to get a set number of beers at a discounted advance price. (For instance you might fix a price of, say, £2.75 a pint across the board, but sell advance tickets for, say, £2.50 a pint on 4 of the ales bought – this gives the customer exceptional value and guarantees some sales before you even open)
Cask, Craft, Artisan, Premium Bottled…what’s in a name?
The thorny question of what to stock is not easy to answer, on the one hand you’ll want to stock what will sell quickly and on the other hand you’ll want to include beers that your customers may not have tasted at your pub before (or elsewhere locally). Should it be a cask ale festival or a craft beer festival? If you are a cask purist you will only stock cask conditioned ales, if you’re a lover of all beer you might want to include ‘craft’ or ‘artisan’ beers that might be delivered ready to drink in casks, bagged in box or even bottled. (The latter certainly allows some off-sale opportunities.) You will soon realise that the market place is somewhat polarised on this matter, but no matter what, as with food, make it high quality and seasonal.
The British climate is notoriously difficult to predict, ask Michael Fish! So the decision of whether to hold all or part of your festival in your beer garden is a thorny one. Have a contingency plan in case it pours down if you opt for the garden. (This might include marquees or gazebos – many customers will have them and may be willing to lend them for the day just in case – also by offering “bright” beers you would be able to quickly move them inside for dispense without affecting your ability to pour).
Outlets with the space inside can still enjoy a beer festival; skittle alleys, function rooms or separate bar areas can all be great venues. If you have no garden and no alternative space within your pub you can still run a festival, you just have to be more creative in marketing these events through your normal dispense equipment.
Staffing, Customer Service and Add-Ons
Getting your staffing levels right is really important just as it is with any event you put on. Briefing your staff on product knowledge/pricing/availability etc is essential.
Many festival organisers incorporate other activities within or along with their ales, entertainment and food can play an important part in the draw for your customers. You have an opportunity to capitalise on higher than normal customer numbers by tailoring your food offering during the festival. Think about the food your customers might associate with real ales and offer it up. I have found that a selection of cheeses, pies and other small bites are well received at festivals I have attended. You could approach your local specialist deli, butcher or cheese shop for suggestions or even ask them to supply you. Summer or winter a barbecue is always a welcome addition, pig roasts are another favourite but as with every outdoor event they are weather dependent.
Entertainment can be a great draw and can range from a small fair ground ride for the kids and live music for the grown ups (for the former you will need to check your insurance to make sure they are covered; for the latter if you are putting music on outside you will no longer need to apply for a Temporary Event Notice (TEN) if the music is un-amplified and the audience is under 200 with the enactment of the Live Music Act 2012. However if you intend to provide amplified live music and/or your audience is likely to exceed 200 you may well have to apply for a TEN as your internal provisions within your premises licence may not cover this). See my separate article on the provisions of the Music Act 2012
If you can run to it try and produce tasting notes for your customers and your staff; consult the Cyclops website or the brewers directly for their assistance. Your supplier and the brewers themselves may be willing to provide some free POS and other material. Use these items in advance as well.
Promoting The Event
Don’t forget to promote and advertise the event well in advance both inside and outside the pub… here’s a great looking poster from Terry Welch for the Royal Oak, Heavitree, Exeter. (If you’d like Terry to design a poster etc for your pub, contact me and I’ll pass your details on)
You’ll note it mentions how many ales over what period of time, it has a theme, a mystery barrel, food and entertainment all tied into the event… and it features Cask Marque and the Drinkaware logos… and it supports the pub’s house charity.
Use your local newspapers, radio and CAMRA branch to your advantage (for instance you could invite the local MP or Chair of the local CAMRA to officially open the event). Ensure you send the full details of what you are doing well in advance, write a press release and then give them a reminder a week before and invite them to come down and sample the products.
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