Specialists in cellar management have stressed the importance of cleaning and organising the cellar ahead of the festive season, in order to ensure standards don’t slip during the busy festive period, which can be a key time for attracting new customers.
“It’s worth remembering that when the pub is working at its maximum, you are effectively marketing to as many people as you possibly can at one time, so if your standards are low, if you’re giving people poor value for money; if the customer’s not getting what they want, what are you doing for the long-term reputation of the pub?” said Edward Theakston, head of cellar management consultancy Edward Theakston Associates, whose clients include Star Pubs & Bars.
Theakston’s comments were echoed by Steve Lakin of specialist dispense firm Innserve, who said it is unlikely that any customer over the festive season will complain about a poorly served pint. Rather, said Lakin, “he or she will tell their friends and never return”.
Lakin stressed the importance of training in making sure staff are fully up to speed before the festive season.
“The better trained and engaged staff are, the better the outcome for the licensed trade,” he said.
“In fact, it is well documented that highly trained staff – particularly with regard to dispense equipment in a bar – have a direct impact on both the quality of draught beer served and minimised wastage.”
Lakin added that training can also help increase yields, and ultimately sales, in an outlet.
And with a few weeks remaining until the festive rush, now could be the best time to address any issues in the dispense system, said Theakston.
“How many [operators] have checked their taps to make sure they’re working properly?” he said.
With a few weeks till the festive season, now is the time to address any issues.
“Are they aware that the majority of lagers should be poured in between 13 to 17 seconds per pint?
“How many times have we been in pubs where the pints are poured incredibly slowly, because the flow rate is being slowed down for a number of reasons.
“Now is the time to be checking all these [factors] to make sure that the beers are delivered not only to the brewer’s specification, but also quickly and efficiently.
“Because if they’re not, when your pub is busy you create queues, you apply more pressure and you effectively end up slowing the amount of money operators can put in their tills.”
Maintaining a regular, once-a-week line cleaning schedule throughout the festive season is crucial, said Theakston. However, he pointed out that the lines themselves are not the only area of concern.
“It’s not so much the lines,” he said. “Beer in keg form is relatively sterile.
“The issues are with the couplers, fob detectors and taps.
“Those are the areas where most of the infection gets into lines, so those are the areas that need to be kept clean.”
The organisation of the cellar space is also said to be important, particularly in the approach to Christmas.
“One of my bugbears, and where things can go wrong, is when pubs allow people to go into the cellar who don’t know how the cellar operates,” said Theakston.
“So they end up putting things in the wrong place and what happens is that, if the landlord doesn’t have the opportunity to put things back where they should be, the cellar becomes a glorified dumping ground. That’s where accidents happen – kegs sliding off kegs, cases of wine broken, stock rotation is not right.”
Again, Theakston advised tackling these issues as soon as possible.
He said: “My tip would be to give the cellar a really good clean now, organise it, and make sure everybody understands how the cellar is to operate during the festive season.”
The importance of organising the cellar was also stressed by Conrad Boucher, general manager of automated beer line specialist Beer Piper.
“It is normal over the Christmas and New Year period for beer cellars to be fuller than normal and effective stock rotation is vital as well as making sure your cellar cooling is working efficiently,” he said.
“Trying to chill warm beer through coolers alone is not efficient.
“It is [also] important that access is maintained to the cellar equipment especially the cellar buoys/fob detectors, gas and beer line cleaning equipment.
“Move all empty barrels out of the cellar as quickly as possible to give you more room to work in.”
Managing stock can be a tricky issue at this time of year, but Lakin warned that it can have a serious knock-on effect on the quality of product served to customers.
“Think about what space you have in the cellar; don’t over order,” he said.
Effective stock rotation is vital as well as making sure your cellar cooling is working.
“A regular complaint from technicians in December is that the cellar is stacked so high with kegs they can’t get in to maintain the equipment.
“Talk with your distributor about more frequent deliveries of smaller quantities of beer – don’t be selling short dated stock off cheap in January.”
Ordering too much stock also makes it difficult to store beer at the correct temperature, according to Lakin.
“Beer needs to rest in a temperature controlled environment of 11-13 degrees for 12-24 hours before serving,” he added.
“Over ordering leads to beers being stored too warm inside, or particularly in Scotland, freezing solid in the yard outside.
“Make sure your whole order can fit inside the cold room.”