Why Education Matters – Part I
A frequent reply when I mention that I put together beer related classes is (with a laugh) “I’d love to take a class on drinkin’ beer! I’d git an A!” Sometimes it is more of a puffed up “I know how to drink beer already…” Yes, I get it. Ha ha. But let’s take a look at it as professionals, shall we?
We’ll start at the front of the house. When you go in to a restaurant, you have an expectation that the people serving you know the menu, are ready to make suggestions, and are willing to answer your questions.
Server: “Our special tonight is the grilled snapper Vera Cruz with Spanish yellow rice.”
Patron: “Is the snapper locally caught?”
Server: “Yes, sir.”
Patron: “What wine would you recommend?”
Server: “We have a nice Cakebread Chardonnay or if you prefer a red, we have the Shoofly Pinot Noir from Australia.”
This kind of conversation raises no eyebrows in most restaurants and if the server is well trained, they can answer these questions without hesitation. It is not only their job to know the menu and the specials, as well as being ready to make recommendations, but it means a better customer experience which (should) translates to better tips.
A good bartender is the same way. It is not enough to know how to pour shots and knock out the usual cocktails; she knows her top shelf liquors, she knows what her bar specializes in, and when someone asks for something she does not have, she is ready with a recommendation.
Customer: “Can I have a Glenmorangie 10 year, please? Neat?”
Bartender: “I’m afraid we don’t carry the Glenmorangie, but have you tried the Macallan 12? It has some of that same vanilla note with similar fruit and sweetness…”
So why do we not see more of this in the beer world? Sure, most (but not all, sadly) tasting rooms and tap houses have pretty knowledgeable staff, well versed in the beers they carry, but the same cannot be said for most restaurants and bars that are new to the craft beer scene. When a server is asked “what’s on tap?”, simply replying “we have Cigar City, Coppertail, and Pair O’ Dice” isn’t very informative, nor is “we have an IPA and a stout”.
But product knowledge is only part of it. How a beer is served is nearly as important. It starts with regularly cleaned taplines, clean glassware, and fresh product. And some basic understanding of beer. I still cringe when I order a beer and it is delivered in a frozen mug. Snobbish? Perhaps, but I like to actually taste the beer I am drinking. You do know that is why certain beers that shall remain nameless try to push the “serve ice cold” mantra, right? It numbs the taste buds and you do not taste anything. But I digress…
There are right and wrong ways to serve beer, just as there are for wine, cocktails, various food items, and so on. I am not quite as particular about glassware as some (yes, there is a whole ‘ban the shaker pint’ faction out there), but an establishment will get high marks from me for at least attempting.
Does this seem like a lot? Overkill? Much ado about nothing? It is just beer, after all…
And that is the attitude I am working to overcome. Quality matters, from the way something is made to the way it is delivered. It serves everyone better to be educated and informed about their job. As a bartender, you have the opportunity to make more money. As a business owner, you increase the perceived value of your establishment and your employees. As a customer, you appreciate a knowledgeable staff member, and will likely remember your experience in a more positive light.