Brew Talks San Diego: Building Relationships Across Tiers

To close out the Brew Talks West Coast Tour last week, a panel of publicans in the San Diego area discussed the myriad challenges of building relationships with both brewing partners and customers.

Sitting on the panel held at Stone Brewing Co.’s Liberty Station restaurant was Scott Slater, founder of Slater’s 50/50, Scot Blair, founder of Hamilton’s Tavern, and Tom Nickel, owner of O’Brien’s Pub.

To get things started, the trio jumped on the topic of creating mutually beneficial partnerships with brewers, an art that Blair contends is in dire need of resuscitation.

“The track of manufacturers wanting to sell to retail and build partnerships is becoming a farce,” he said. “I think we need to get back to that paradigm of understanding: I’m your employee that’s paying you to work for you.”

Considering there are 90 breweries in the city (with 40 more on the way), Blair said it’s impossible to tap all of the locally produced beers at his bar. As such, he’s far more likely to go with the brewery that takes an extra step to build a rapport with him, local or otherwise.

“I have somebody trying to sell me six brown ales. I want one. So now I have to start making decisions,” he said, laying out a hypothetical scenario. “You need to value my brand as much as I need to value yours.”

“Let’s say the three local brands, I don’t have relationships with them. They’re opening tasting rooms down the road from my business, they don’t care about what we’re doing,” he added. “I have two from out of town. Say they come in and they roll out the red carpet, they want to do events…Now it becomes relationship building.”

Nickel agreed it’s important to build relationships with the people making the beer, but added an emphasis also must be placed on establishing trust with the customer.

“It’s also about the relationship between the bartenders and the customers,” said Nickel. “If you have a regular customer and you know what they like, you would hope that your good bartenders could recommend things… ‘I know what you usually drink, why don’t [you] try this instead.’”

Educating the staff to be able to do that, however, can be difficult, said Slater. Slater’s entire roster of servers must be Cicerone-certified before they can face the consumer and spout information on any one of the more than 100 beers the chain offers at a given location.

“That’s my biggest challenge,” he said, “getting people to be educated on every beer that we have on tap.”

Additional video coverage from the Brew Talks West Coast Tour is available on YouTube.



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