Substandard cellar management can cost much more than it saves

WITH cost pressures continuing and consumers still concerned over their household budgets, 2024 could be another challenging year for pubs and bars. 

And with punters increasingly discerning about where they spend their money, the single worst thing an operator could do is let their standards slip. 

That was certainly the message from dispense specialists, who warned licensees against cutting corners when it comes to their draught beer and cider. 

“Money is tight, particularly at the start of the year, and it’s fair to say that if you’re not serving a quality pour your customers will vote with their feet. 

“Millions are lost every year in revenue because operators don’t pay enough attention to cellar management,” said Craig Dempsey, director at dispense specialist Thompson Hunter.

“It’s all well and good having a great beer offering but if the beer you’re pouring is substandard because of unclean lines or high cellar temperatures, you’re effectively pouring money down the drain.” 

If your beer is substandard you’re pouring money down the drain.

That was reinforced by Hance McGhie, global sales director at line cleaning company Chemisphere, who said even something as simple as opting for cheaper line-cleaning products can have a knock-on effect on an outlet’s bottom line. 

“There are lots of devices, lotions and potions to extend the line cleaning process,” he said. 

“All I will say is do your research; some work, some seem to work but later down the road they fail and it will end up costing money.

“You may be able to save anything between £1 and £5 on line cleaners, for instance, but if you can’t get lines clean and it results in a pint being returned, that saving is worthless!

“Remember, a person goes to a pub for the first time, they will spend that £5 on a pint no matter what, it’s the second and third you may not sell if the quality and experience isn’t right.”

While new technologies have helped make cellar management more efficient and effective, the fundamentals are said to have stayed the same. 

Dempsey at Thompson Hunter stressed that food hygiene standards should be as high in a cellar as they are in kitchen. 

“The fundamentals of good cellar management are keeping the cellar clean, dry and cool,” he said.  

“We’d recommend cleaning a cellar every week – clearly any spillages need to be dealt with as they happen as they’re slip hazards as well as carrying potential cross-contamination risks. 

“Air the cellar daily for a short period to avoid stagnant air circulating. 

“Keep your cellar cool (10 to 14°C) and dry so your beer is stored in optimum conditions and make sure you line up your casks properly – beer has a shelf life. 

“The next essential is line cleaning, which has to be done every week. Unclean dispense lines can result in the build-up of bacteria, mould, limescale and yeast and nobody wants that in their pint. 

“Have a designated cellar manager whose responsibility is to ensure standards are maintained.”

Dempsey added that CO2 is another potentially dangerous factor that should be monitored in every beer cellar – both in terms of the quality of CO2 used by the venue and keeping an eye on any background CO2 in the cellar. 

Have a designated cellar manager to ensure standards are maintained.

“Ensure customers are getting supplied food grade CO2 (99.9%) – cheaper alternatives are often unfiltered by-products of industrial processes and not suitable for beer dispense as they will contaminate the products,” said Dempsey.

“Make sure to store gas cylinders safely and correct quantities of each gas type. 

“Something that is often overlooked is the presence of CO2 in cellars.  

“Undetectable by humans, the slightest amount of CO2 in the atmosphere can put a person at risk so protect staff by having a CO2 monitor installed in your cellar and alarm repeater at the entrance to the cellar.”

Both experts agreed with the importance of staff training, with McGhie at Chemisphere saying this has become particularly important as experienced publicans leave the trade – taking their cellar and dispense experience with them. 

“We have lost a lot of knowledge in the industry recently and standards have slipped,” he said.  

“Basic cellar training, hygiene and how to pour the perfect beer is critical to keep custom and increase margins.”

He added that the company has opened its own training centre at its Manchester head office to address the issue. 

And properly maintaining equipment is another must – as well as replacing anything that might be past its best. 

“Every piece of kit has a life cycle and, clearly, the older it is the less efficient it’s going to be,” said Dempsey. 

“Insulation breakdowns, for example, on older pythons can cause dispense problems due to higher temperatures, increased yeast build-up and general hygiene issues.  

“Inefficient product cooling leads to increased electricity consumption and higher beer temperatures, causing fobbing issues, product losses and general poor dispense.”